Indigenous women and girls in Canada are more likely to live in areas far from large population centres and face unique challenges – and benefits – according to Statistics Canada.
A report released on Wednesday compares the socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous women and girls living in isolated communities to those in more accessible areas.
It used data from the 2016 census and Statistics Canada’s newly developed remoteness index classification, which measures a rural community’s distance from surrounding population centres and services.
Overall, the study found that Indigenous women and girls living in isolated communities benefit from closer connections to their communities, cultures, traditions, languages, lands and resources. But they face barriers like more difficulty accessing goods and services, and fewer educational and employment opportunities.
“It is necessary to understand the real socioeconomic conditions faced by Indigenous women and girls in order to put in place measures which foster the vitality of Indigenous communities, languages, cultures and traditions after centuries of disruption due to colonization and harmful colonial practices,” the report states.
According to the study, of the 795,730 women living in isolated communities in Canada in 2016, 29 percent were First Nations, Métis or Inuit. In “very remote communities,” the overrepresentation of Indigenous women and girls was even higher, with 72 percent of the female population being Indigenous. Indigenous women account for just five percent of Canada’s overall female population.
Inuit women and girls in particular were more likely to live in isolated communities, with 81 percent reporting they do so, compared to 32 percent of First Nations and 13 percent of Métis women and girls.
Housing, education and employment
Indigenous women and girls living in isolated communities were more likely to live in homes in need of major repairs, the study found, particularly First Nations women and girls living on-reserve.
Almost half of First Nations, 31 percent of Inuit, and 19 percent of Métis women and girls in very isolated communities reported living in housing in need of major repairs in 2016. Inuit women and girls in those communities were four times more likely to report living in a crowded home than those in easily accessible areas.
Educational attainment among Indigenous women has been increasing over time. However, the proportion of women with a bachelor’s degree or higher continues to be lower for Indigenous than non-Indigenous women. The study found educational attainment declines the more isolated the community, with those declines more pronounced among First Nations and Inuit women.
In 2016, 78 percent of First Nations women in more easily accessible areas had completed high school or a higher level of education, compared to 47 percent in very isolated communities, with women living on-reserve less likely to report doing so.
Comparatively, 72 percent of Inuit women living in easily accessible areas reported obtaining at least a high school diploma, a figure that dropped to 41 percent in very isolated communities, with women living in Inuit Nunangat less likely to do so. The report said that’s likely due to the impacts of residential school, a lack of Inuit teachers and culturally relevant curriculum, and children having to learn in a second language.
Sixty-nine percent of Métis women and 75 percent of non-Indigenous women living in very isolated communities reported competing at least high school.
Among both Indigenous and non-Indigenous women, the report found employment outcomes decreased the more isolated a community was. However, Inuit women living in isolated communities in Inuit Nunangat had higher median incomes than those living in easily accessible or very isolated areas. The report notes this may be due to the high cost of living in the region.
The report states that the median income for First Nations women was $18,400 in very isolated areas and $23,800 in easily accessible areas. For Inuit women, the median outcome was $14,500 in very isolated areas, $31,400 in isolated areas ($34,000 for communities in Inuit Nunangat and $28,200 outside the region), and $22,200 in easily accessible areas.
Multi-generational households and language
The report found that multi-generational households were more common among Indigenous families living in isolated communities, which played a role in raising children and passing on traditional knowledge. The study suggested this may also be the result of affordability challenges and housing shortages in isolated areas.
In the most isolated communities, 29 percent of First Nations women and girls were living in multi-generational households, compared to nine percent in easily accessible areas. The opposite was true for non-Indigenous women and girls, who reported being more likely to live in multi-generational households in easily accessible areas than in more isolated communities.
Finally, First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and girls living in isolated communities were more likely to report being able to speak an Indigenous language than those living in more accessible areas.
In 2016, 60 percent of Inuit women and girls in isolated communities and 83 percent in very isolated communities reported being able to speak an Indigenous language, with particularly high rates in communities within Inuit Nunangat. For First Nations women and girls, 57 percent in very isolated areas reported speaking an Indigenous language compared to seven percent in easily accessible areas.
Less than one percent of Métis women living in easily accessible areas could speak an Indigenous language, compared to 15 percent in very isolated communities. Of all adults in Canada, 16 percent reported being able to speak an Indigenous language well enough to hold a conversation in 2016.