In the North, Indigenous workers outpaced non-Indigenous in CERB uptake by wide margin: Statistics Canada

Indigenous workers with relatively low annual earnings were the most likely to receive Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit payments, says a new Statistics Canada report.

Report authors point to overrepresentation of Indigenous people in low-paying and pandemic-affected jobs

Part of a cheque for the $2,000 Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Available from March 2020 to September 2020, CERB provided up to $500 per week for eligible Canadians to a maximum of $14,000 over 28 weeks. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

Indigenous workers with relatively low annual earnings were the most likely to receive Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit payments, says a new Statistics Canada report.

That's among the overall findings of the report, released on Wednesday, which looked at the CERB program among First Nations, Métis and Inuit. 

Available from March 2020 to September 2020, CERB provided up to $500 per week for eligible Canadians to a maximum of $14,000 over 28 weeks.

According to the report, among all workers who earned at least $5,000 in 2019, more Indigenous workers (39.2 per cent) than non-Indigenous workers (33.9 per cent) received CERB payments.

"Around 41.5 per cent of First Nations workers received CERB payments in 2020, while 36.2 per cent of Métis and 40.3 per cent of Inuit workers did the same," the report states.

Co-author Huda Masoud said the report drew information directly from CERB records and the long form of the Statistics Canada census to examine socio-economic characteristics of Indigenous workers who received the benefit between March and September 2020.

Inuit and CERB

The report focused largely on various differences regarding CERB receipt by Inuit men and women in the four Inuit regions and those living in the South.

Among the report's findings: In Inuit Nunangat the proportion of Inuit workers who received CERB in 2020 was highest for those living in Nunavik (47.1 per cent,) followed by those in Nunavut (41.7 per cent.)

Those living in Nunatsiavut were the least likely to receive CERB (26.4 per cent).

Masoud said the report noted these differences between the four Inuit regions but did not delve into the reasons behind them.

The report also found that among Inuit living in Inuit Nunangat, the highest proportion of CERB receipt in 2020 was seen among those 25 to 54 years (45.3 per cent).

Outside those regions, younger Inuit, aged 15 to 24, were more likely to receive payments (46.9 per cent).

Overall, Inuit workers living inside Inuit Nunangat were more likely to receive CERB (42.1 per cent) than those living outside (36.2 per cent).

Inuit men living in Inuit Nunangat (44.6 per cent) were also more likely to receive CERB than women (39.5 per cent,) with little difference seen between both sexes outside of Inuit regions.

Again, the report did not look at the reasons for those regional or gender differences, but it did look at over-representation in lower-paying jobs and certain industries such as accommodation and food services as well as construction.

So that "may have been a factor" in why more Inuit men than women in the North received CERB, Masoud suggested.

Northwest Territories and Yukon

The report concluded that among the three territories, 40.2 per cent of people who received CERB payments were Indigenous, compared to 18.3 per cent who were non-Indigenous. That was the greatest differential among all jurisdictions in Canada.

According to the report, the pandemic and economic downturn had "disproportionate impacts on Indigenous people, who were more vulnerable due to pre-existing disparities, such as lower incomes, higher levels of poverty and food insecurity, rooted in historical and ongoing impacts of colonization."

As Masoud noted regarding Inuit CERB recipients, the report states that the overrepresentation of Indigenous workers who turned to CERB may reflect their overrepresentation in low-paying jobs and in pandemic-affected industries.

In the Northwest Territories, the territorial government is the largest employer: it employs more than 5,000 of the territory's labour force of approximately 26,700 people.

Government jobs were largely protected during the pandemic, but those jobs in the Northwest Territories are largely staffed by non-Indigenous residents.

According to the 2020-2021 annual report on the N.W.T. public service, only 29.3 per cent of the government workforce is Indigenous. In senior management, that figure is 20 per cent. Census data shows Indigenous people account for about 51 per cent of the territory's population.

In the Yukon, only 15 per cent of Yukon Government workers are Indigenous even though 22 per cent of Yukon's population identifies as First Nation, Inuit or Métis.

In the Northwest Territories and Yukon, 43.2 per cent of CERB recipients were First Nations, while 28.2 per cent were Métis.


Jane George is a reporter with CBC Nunavut. Prior to August 2021, George worked at Nunatsiaq News for more than 20 years, winning numerous community newspaper awards.

With files from Walter Strong