Aboriginal children are poorest in country: report

A national network of advocacy groups is expected to release on Friday a report that paints a bleak picture of poverty facing First Nations children in Canada.

B.C. and Newfoundland have highest rates; Alberta and P.E.I. have lowest rates

A national networkof advocacy groupsreleased a report on Friday that paints a bleak picture of poverty facing First Nations children in Canada.

In its report, called Oh Canada! Too Many Children in Poverty for Too Long, the advocacy group Campaign 2000 says First Nations children are suffering the greatest levels of poverty of all children in the country.

Thegroup defines poverty rates by using information compiled by Statistics Canadaon low-income families. ButStatisticsCanadadoes notuse the word "poverty," saying there's no objective definition.

Vera Pawis Tabobondung, president of the National Association of Friendship Centres, spoke to CBC News on Friday. ((CBC))
The report says one in four children in First Nations communities lives in poverty, and it calls upon federal and provincial governments to take action to ensure aboriginal children on reserves and in urban areas will thrive.

"With an increasing First Nations and aboriginal population that is both rural and urban, young, vital and rapidly expanding, Canada must address the extremes of poverty that First Nations face on a daily basis. This poverty is systemic and long-standing, and requires concerted action from all levels," it reads.

According to the report, First Nations children face terrible daily living conditions and aremore likely than other Canadian children to suffer health problems. Among the problems listed:

  • One aboriginal child in eightis disabled, double the rate of all children in Canada.
  • Among First Nations children, 43 per centlack basic dental care.
  • Overcrowding among First Nations families is double the rate of that for all Canadian families.
  • Mould contaminates almost half of all First Nations households.
  • Almost half of aboriginal children under 15 years old residing in urban areas live with a single parent.
  • Close to 100 First Nations communities must boil their water.
  • Of all off-reserve aboriginal children, 40 per cent live in poverty.

"Now is the time for governments at all levels to collaborate with First Nations governments and aboriginal organizations to ramp up social investments that enable young aboriginals to succeed," the report says.

"We need to have the money getting to people who need it the most," Vera Pawis Tabobondung,president ofthe NationalAssociation of Friendship Centres, told CBC News. "We need to have a comprehensive strategy between all levels of government. That it's not just the federal government."

The report says poverty rates vary across Canada.

According to the report, the highest child poverty rates occur in B.C. (23.5 per cent) and Newfoundland andLabrador (23.1 percent).

The lowest occur in Alberta (14.5 per cent) and P.E.I (10.8 per cent).

The report notes that Quebec is the only province where child poverty rates have been consistently declining since 1991. It credits a package of family support benefits implemented in 1997, theexpansion of child benefits and enhanced parental leave.

Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Laurel Rothman, national co-ordinator of Campaign 2000, were scheduled tohold a news conference aboutthe report on Friday morning in Toronto.

Campaign 2000 calls itself a public education movement to build Canadian awareness and support for the 1989 all-party House of Commons resolution to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000. It puts out an annual report on child poverty in Canada that measures the progress of the resolution.