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The UA confirms the social evils suffered from a Canadian aboriginal reserve


Alicante, 18 December 2013

Residents of contemporary Indian reserves in Canada suffer a structural unemployment status, dependence on assistance programmes and internal social division. This is the conclusion of a study on one of these settlements where has University of Alicante has taken part, which confirms the failure of the government efforts in bringing them social welfare despite the resources invested.

This study work, jointly performed with the University of Granada and the Laurentian University, was prepared by the UA lecturer Raúl Ruiz Callado, also Director of the Department of Sociology I. Other authors of the paper, published in the Revista Internacional de Organizaciones (International Journal on Organizations) are Alfonso Marquina and Jorge Virchez and it is part of two research projects funded by the Ministry of Education and Science and the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

In order to prepare the study, data on an Oji-Cree aboriginal community called ‘Omushkego First Nation’ were analyzed. This community is considered a representative case for the descriptive analysis of contemporary consequences of the Indian reserve system in northern Ontario. In this reserve, a significant internal polarization has been generated, where serious problems for most people coexist with the presence of a new professional classes and an emerging political and business elite.

This paper points out that in today's Canada there are about 700 Indian reserves that group together Inuit and descendants of both Indians and fur traders. The polarization occurs because -as the authors sarcastically state- “the public policy of extending ‘modernity’ to the indigenous populations through the establishment of permanent settlements, participation in the industrial economy, wage employment and access to social services wryly notes , has had unintended consequences”, and they suggest that residents in the reserve have worse health indicators than other ethnic groups in the Canadian multicultural state, with collective problems including chronic substance addiction or depression. “The abuse of opioid analgesics for recreational purposes has become a real social epidemic" they say regarding Omushkego First Nation reserve.

"Paradoxically, on one hand, the explicit goal of liberal modernity of introducing ‘social welfare’ in the indigenous populations through paid employment, public education and, health and social services has generated a socio-economic underclass in a country like Canada, which maintains one of the highest human development indexes in the world” as the authors state, who report that  a social class division has been generated: well-paid aboriginal professionals with socio-political aspirations and an uneducated working class with seasonal jobs in the forestry and mining industry and strongly dependent on social assistance programmes.

"The creation of bureaucratic, business and professional minorities has been accompanied by increasing unemployment and welfare dependency of most people”, which has encouraged nepotism and patronage within the institutional structure of the reserves. This study asserts that contemporary measures taken to protect permanent settlements "has proven to be one of the most ineffective public policy in the history of Canada, to the point that they have the reputation of being the most devalued and marginalized social spaces" despite the substantial public funding to compensate the high unemployment rate and numerous psychosocial problems.


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