OTTAWA — A new survey suggests that there is growing awareness of Canada’s mistreatment of Indigenous people, and an increasing number of Canadians say the onus is on the federal government to achieve economic and social equality for Indigenous communities.
The telephone survey was conducted by the Environics Institute as part of its Focus Canada research program. The final report from the survey was released on Thursday to coincide with the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Participants were asked to list the first thing that comes to mind when they think of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Of those polled, 28 per cent mentioned mistreatment or abuse, compared to only 17 per cent in a survey conducted in 2016.
Mistreatment or abuse was the top response in this year’s survey. In the 2016 survey, the top responses mentioned Indigenous people as the first inhabitants of the continent, as well as Indigenous history and traditions.
In addition, 10 per cent of respondents mentioned residential schools or the forcible removal of Indigenous children in the 2021 survey, while only two per cent mentioned these issues in 2016. Respondents also mentioned poverty (six per cent), the need for reconciliation (five per cent), disputes over treaty claims (five per cent) and loss of culture or assimilation (four per cent).
The survey also asked respondents what they believe is the main obstacle to achieving economic and social equality for Indigenous people. In 2016, 26 per cent said the Canadian government was the biggest obstacle, while an equal number of respondents put the blame on Indigenous people themselves.
That changed in the 2021 survey. A total of 37 per cent of respondents said Canadian government policies are the main obstacle, while 16 per cent said Indigenous people are.
The survey also found that 17 per cent blamed attitudes of the Canadian public for inequalities affecting Indigenous people, while 12 per cent say all three factors were equally big.
The Environics Institute says these results show a clear shift in public opinion in wake of the discovery of unmarked graves at several former residential school sites across Canada, which dominated headlines this summer.
“There is a growing awareness of the mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, including through the system of residential schools, and a growing willingness to say that the policies of Canadian governments, and not Indigenous Peoples themselves, is the main obstacle to achieving economic and social equality,” the report states.
The results also varied by region. Residents of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta were less likely to blame Canadian government policies and more likely to name the other two options as the main obstacle to achieving economic and social equality for Indigenous people. Canadians over the age of 40 were also twice as likely to blame Indigenous people for the inequalities they face than Canadians under 40 were.
National pride has also diminished, the survey found. This year, 61 per cent of respondents said they were very proud to be a Canadian and 27 per cent said they were somewhat proud. Five years ago, 73 per cent said they were very proud and 17 per cent said they were somewhat proud.
“The survey cannot say definitely why this decline has occurred; however, it is possible that it comes in reaction to the recent revelations about the deaths of Indigenous children while attending Indian residential schools before this system was ended,” the Environics Institute wrote.
Optimism in seeing meaningful reconciliation has also declined slightly since 2016. Of the respondents, 62 per cent said they were very optimistic or somewhat optimistic, compared to 65 per cent in 2016. Nine per cent say they’re very pessimistic, an increase from seven per cent from five years ago.
The survey was conducted by the Environics Institute in partnership with the Century Initiative based on telephone interviews involving both landline and cellphone users. A total of 2,000 Canadians were polled between Sept. 7 and 23, including 90 who identified themselves as Indigenous. The margin of error is ± 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.