Own-source revenue is more effective in lifting living standards in Indigenous communities than government funding, according to a study released Tuesday by the Fraser Institute.
The study is the based on the Statistics Canada’s latest Community Well-Being Index, published every five years to measure income, health and education. The latest index published earlier this year, extending the data from 2001 to 2016.
“For decades, governments in Canada have poured money into first nation communities in an effort to improve the quality of life, and yet many communities have seen their living standards decline,” said Tom Flanagan of the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary and author of the study, Gaining Ground, Losing Ground: First Nations’ Community Well-Being in the 21st Century.
Of the 21 first nations across Canada with the biggest improvement in community well-being, 11 were in B.C.: Halfway River, McLeod Lake, Witset, Nadleh Whuten (Fort Fraser), Tk’emlups te Secwepmec (Kamloops), Matsqui, Shuswap, Leq’a:mel (Deroche), Uclulet, Blueberry River and Prophet River. Two are in Alberta: Enoch Cree (Stony Plain) and Fort Mackay.
Flanagan notes that Tk’emlups, Matsqui, Shuswap and Leq’a:mel “are in a special category because three quarters or more of the people who live on the reserve are not status Indians. These first nations have sought prosperity by leasing land to outsiders for residential or recreational real estate.”
Most of the rest gained improvement via “community capitalism, or band-owned enterprises” including oil and gas field services and forestry.
Five of the fastest-improving communities are in northern B.C., “where the provincial government has an elaborate program of consultations, negotiations and revenue sharing with with first nations for resource development, including forestry, pipelines and hydrocarbon exploration.”
Those found to have lost ground in community well-being from 2001-16 include Soowahlie (near Chilliwack) and Wuikinuxv (Rivers Inlet) in B.C. and Beaver and Whitefish Lake in Alberta.
“A common characteristic for the first nations that are losing fround is the low level of own-source revenue,” Flanagan says. “Not surprisingly, these first nations are not making as much use of off-ramps from the Indian Act as are the ones that are rapidly improving their community well-being scores. None in this group has established a tax system.”
Remoteness from urban locations is a factor in the declining group, with some having no year-round road connection to a service centre. Only two, Soowahlie and Eagle Lake near Dryden, Ont. are less than 50 km from a town or city.