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Esgenoopetitj First Nation is the poorest community in Canada, according to median income data from Statistics Canada. (CBC)

With the Olympic Games underway in Vancouver, there's been a lot of attention focused on the city's Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, which has been described as Canada's poorest postal code.

But six communities in New Brunswick are actually poorer than the Vancouver neighbourhood, according to median income data from Statistics Canada.

A column in the Vancouver Sun earlier this month pointed out the disparity between income figures and common perceptions, highlighting 10 areas that would be considered the poorest in Canada according to those figures. 

Seven N.B. postal codes rank among the 10 poorest according to income — six of them First Nations communities: Kingsclear, Eel Ground, Tobique, Elsipogtog, Red Bank and Esgenoopetitj, also known as Burnt Church.

The median income in those areas was below $14,000 in 2006, with Esgenoopetitj ranking as the poorest neighbourhood in Canada, with a median income of $9,200. Adamsville, N.B., also made the list.

In contrast, internal documents of the Esgenoopetitj band show Chief Wilbur Dedam made more than $300,000 last year.

Figures misleading: band controller

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Financial controller Alex Dedam says Statistics Canada figures are misleading because most of the money earned by residents is not considered income for tax purposes. ((CBC))

The chief was unavailable for an interview, but the band's financial controller, Alex Dedam, who is not related to the chief, said the figure is misleading.

The chief's actual salary is only about $7,000, he said. Most of the other income is from wood the band bought from the chief's private company.

Dedam also said poverty in Burnt Church is not as bad as it seems.

The median income statistics are based on data for people who file taxes, he said. But most of the money earned by residents of aboriginal reserves is not considered income for tax purposes.

There is, however, a lack of jobs, said Dedam.

The band office doesn't keep unemployment statistics, but he estimates the unemployment rate is probably three times higher than in neighbouring communities.

In Tracadie, the unemployment rate was 15.3 per cent, which would put Esgenoopetitj's rate at more than 45 per cent.

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Band councillor Curtis Bartibogue estimates the unemployment rate in Esgenoopetitj is 80 per cent. ((CBC))

Band councillor Curtis Bartibogue estimates it's closer to 80 per cent. He's one of the Burnt Church residents living on social assistance — in his case, $300 a month.

He said his pay is being withheld because he's at odds with the band council leadership. He's been vocal with his concerns about how things are run, arguing that there's a lack of transparency and accountability.

"As a band councillor myself, a lot of information that I've been trying to get has been denied by the administration," said Bartibogue.

Burnt Church resident Arthur Dedam (no relation to Wilbur or Alex Dedam) is also on social assistance and said he expects more help from the band.

"We elected them as officials to help us, guide us through the rough times and get us jobs," he said. "That really sickens me."

Dedam has started a Facebook group and petition demanding an increase in social assistance benefits. They haven't gone up in 16 years, he said.

Jeff Narvey, 47, also of Burnt Church, said it makes it difficult to make ends meet.

"I'm forced to live in a place like this because of my current situation of being on welfare. I have no other choice," said Narvey, too ashamed to let a reporter into his home.

He described it as small and cold with no running water. "I go next door to do my laundry and showers and whatnot," he said.

Narvey said he doesn't know how much longer he'll remain on the reserve. He doesn't want to leave, but he doesn't want to live on welfare for the rest of his life either, he said.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of the story suggested six New Brunswick communities ranked among Canada's 10 poorest communities based on median income data. In fact, the number is seven.
    Feb 24, 2010 12:35 PM AT