Urban natives content: study

Survey shows happiness in white society, lingering stereotype fears


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OTTAWA -- Aboriginal people living in Canada's cities are generally happy, proud of their heritage and have the same desires to go to school, get good jobs, own a home and raise happy, healthy kids as anyone else.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/04/2010 (4682 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Aboriginal people living in Canada’s cities are generally happy, proud of their heritage and have the same desires to go to school, get good jobs, own a home and raise happy, healthy kids as anyone else.

But they still fear non-aboriginals see them as lazy, stupid and addicted to drugs and alcohol.

The findings are part of the Urban Aboriginal Peoples Survey, released Tuesday by the Environics Institute. It looked at how urban First Nations, Métis and Inuit people view themselves and how they are viewed by non-aboriginals. Environics conducted the survey between March and October 2009 using in-person interviews with 2,614 aboriginal Canadians in 11 cities, including Winnipeg. It also conducted a phone survey of non-aboriginals living in 10 cities, including Winnipeg.

BORIS.MINKEVICH@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Andrew Bighetty at Thunderbird House. He says despite his urban home, his Cree traditions are crucial in his life.

"Much of what we found won’t be particularly surprising to urban aboriginal communities, but there are a lot of surprises for the rest of us," said Keith Neuman, vice-president of public affairs with the Environics Research Group.

Those surprises likely include the fact most urban aboriginals consider the city they live in their home, have no desire to move back to their hometown or reserve, and are not all that worried about losing their cultural identity. They retain strong ties to their hometowns and their culture, but are almost equally proud to be Canadian.

They also reported similar aspirations to all Canadians for a good life, including getting an education, landing a good job, buying a home and starting or raising a family.

Urban aboriginals are generally more tolerant of other cultures and languages than non-aboriginals, but more than seven in 10 aboriginal people in cities feel they are viewed negatively by non-aboriginals. Almost three in four say other Canadians associate aboriginal people with drug and alcohol abuse, 30 per cent think they are perceived as lazy and 20 per cent believe they are seen as stupid or uneducated.

Andrew Bighetty, an outreach worker for homeless people at the Circle of Life Thunderbird House, said he is proud of his Cree heritage because it keeps him away from alcohol and a destructive lifestyle.

"It gives me life," he said. "Every morning, I take sage and purify my mind, my body, my spirit and my emotions and then I can speak to the Creator."

He said he doesn’t worry about stereotypes and does his best to treat everybody he meets as an equal.

"I greet just about everybody I see on the street. I shake their hands, I hug them. I ask for a minute of their time and if they need help. A homeless person will always be polite to you and greet you with a hello. If they ask for assistance and I don’t have it, they’ll thank me just for greeting them," he said.

Non-aboriginals are also likely to see aboriginal Canadians as targets for discrimination, with 12 per cent of non-aboriginals saying discrimination is the leading issue affecting the quality of life for aboriginal Canadians. More than eight in 10 non-aboriginals surveyed felt aboriginal people experience discrimination.

However, more than half of non-aboriginals feel aboriginal people are discriminated against to the same degree or less than other cultural or ethnic groups in Canada, including Jews, Chinese, blacks, Pakistani/East Indians and Muslims.

Most non-aboriginal people in cities seem to know no or very few aboriginal people, with 87 per cent reporting no or few aboriginal friends and 84 per cent reporting no or few aboriginal co-workers.

Nearly half of non-aboriginals have never been to a reserve, and seven in 10 have never attended an aboriginal cultural ceremony. The most common exposure to aboriginal culture comes from television and the movies (83 per cent).

More than six in 10 urban aboriginals said they learned almost nothing about aboriginal culture in elementary school and almost half said that trend continued in high school.

Despite the increased attention given residential schools since Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the tragic policy in June 2008, almost half of non-aboriginals living in cities have neither heard nor read about Indian residential schools. Out of those that have, less than one-third think the schools are responsible for many of the problems and challenges currently faced by aboriginals in Canada.

That is a drastic difference from how urban aboriginals feel. More than two-thirds have been personally affected by residential schools, either attending themselves or having a family member or friend who did. Of those, half said the schools had a significant impact and 23 per cent said it had some impact.

Neuman said non-aboriginals who have heard of residential schools are generally "horrified." More schools are adding elements of aboriginal culture to the curriculum, but most Canadian adults were not exposed to much about residential schools or aboriginal culture in school.

Neuman said he hopes the survey will be seen as a positive story, and it will be used by both aboriginals and non-aboriginals alike to reframe how they think about each other.

"Aboriginals are living in cities because they want to," he said. "They are thriving."

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