Canada should embark immediately on an urgent national campaign to raise the standard of living and the education of its Aboriginal youth.
It is for the national good, and specifically for Canada’s resource, construction and development industries.
B.C.’s construction industry alone has an estimated current shortfall of 14,000 tradespeople and technicians, while more than $300 billion in major projects are in the pipeline.
More architects, engineers and, yes, trained hardhats will be needed. Much of the job recruiting effort is now overseas.
But we could train our own experts.
Twenty-five per cent of Canada’s Aboriginal population is under the age 15, representing about 350,000 children who could become tomorrow’s professionals.
A dedicated education campaign could change the current narrative of Aboriginal young people in a single generation – and that would pay off for generations to come.
According to the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board, Canada’s Aboriginal youth could contribute $27.7 billion each year to the national economy if they took their rightful place in the workforce.
Instead, Canada is spending billions of dollars every year in the two areas where Indigenous youth are vastly over-represented: prisons and drug addiction.
Aboriginal youth account for 7 per cent of Canada’s overall population, but make up 41 per cent of those entering the justice system. They represent 10 per cent of all drug overdose deaths.
The Indigenous high-school dropout rate is four times higher than the national average and only 10 per cent advance to a bachelor’s degree.
Yet Aboriginal children living on reserve receive 30 per cent less funding for their education as do children under provincial jurisdiction.
The federal Liberal government has promised $2.6 billion for Aboriginal youth education, but this includes expenditures on improving water quality and other health issues on remote reserves.
That funding should be increased at least four fold and targeted to a superior learning environment beginning at the earliest grades and carried right through high school.
Give these kids a shot.
First Nation leaders will have to step up, perhaps looking more closely at their priorities and responsibilities, as will the provincial and federal governments.
Canada’s fastest-growing youth demographic is coming, and they have very good reasons to protest the status quo.
Education is the answer.
Harnessing this powerhouse of bright young minds will raise the pride, safety and living standards of Aboriginal youth – and of the nation itself.