Almost three-quarters of Indigenous youth who took part in a new survey said they are optimistic there will be meaningful reconciliation in their lifetime.
The online poll surveyed 1,377 youth and found 73 per cent of Indigenous youth and 68 per cent of non-Indigenous youth felt somewhat or very optimistic about that outcome.
The Canadian Youth Reconciliation Barometer poll was conducted by Environics Institute for Survey Research to measure youth perspectives on reconciliation. The poll was created in collaboration with Canadian Roots Exchange and the Mastercard Foundation.
The online poll surveyed 682 Indigenous and 695 non-Indigenous youth (ages 16 to 29), distributed across the 10 provinces and three territories between March 22 and April 29.
The sample was representative by region, community type, gender and Indigenous group (First Nations, Métis, Inuit), based on 2016 population statistics. The survey was conducted in English and French.
Max FineDay, executive director of Canadian Roots Exchange, a non-profit organization aimed at building relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth, said he was ready for bad news but was pleasantly surprised at the positivity reflected in the survey responses.
“Indigenous young people and non-Indigenous young people are extraordinarily optimistic and are extraordinarily positive about the future of meaningful reconciliation being achieved in their lifetime,” he said.
FineDay, who is Cree from the Sweetgrass First Nation in Saskatchewan, was also one of the interim directors of the National Council for Reconciliation.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which aimed to bring to light the legacy of the residential school system and the intergenerational impacts on Indigenous communities, released its final report in December 2015 with 94 Calls to Action — specific actions needed to advance reconciliation.
The aim of the poll was to create a baseline of data to gauge progress on the state of reconciliation among youth.
Despite the hardships and disparities that are still seen in Indigenous communities, FineDay said the optimism reflected in the survey answers is encouraging.
“Indigenous youth particularly are still willing to reach out their hands in peace and friendship and hope, waiting for Canada to grasp it and say ‘OK, we’re gonna get this right,'” FineDay said.
He said the hope for this research is that it will be used to help influence decision making and conversations happening at the federal and provincial level, where the voices of young people are often left out.
There were six areas of focus in the survey: Indigenous and non-Indigenous connections, perspectives on Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations, treatment of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, perspectives on reconciliation, personal involvement with reconciliation and life goals and aspirations.
The report found that, regionally, Indigenous youth in the Prairie provinces (especially Saskatchewan and Manitoba) were more likely to have connections with non-Indigenous people and were also more pessimistic about the current state of relations and treatment of Indigenous people.
“They are also most likely to report involvement in reconciliation activities while less apt to feel they can make a meaningful difference,” states the report.
The report said non-Indigenous youth in the Prairies were among the most familiar with residential schools, but were “comparatively less sympathetic to this legacy and are also the most likely to express the view that Indigenous Peoples expect too much when it comes to acknowledging the past.”
The report said non-Indigenous youth in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada were the most positive, “but also less likely to consider themselves well-informed about the history and issues.”
In the survey results, 84 per cent of Indigenous youth responded that Indigenous people are discriminated against sometimes or often, while about 75 per cent of non-Indigenous youth said the same.
Of non-Indigenous respondents, 82 per cent said they believed the hardships facing Indigenous communities today are to some extent or great extent a result of government policies such as residential schools.
In the survey, 89 per cent of Indigenous and 87 per cent of non-Indigenous respondents said it’s very or somewhat important for all non-Indigenous Canadians to understand the true history of how Indigenous people have been treated by governments and society.
Still work to be done
“There’s a lot of change that really needs to take place,” said Megan Lewis, who was part of Canadian Roots Exchange’s Youth Reconciliation Initiative, where Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth take part in reconciliation activities like cultural activities, education and community events.
“I do feel like as much as it’s a personal journey, it also has to be led by government policies, laws, community organizations and institutions.”
Lewis, 23, a Kanien’kehá:ka woman from Tyendinaga, Ont., said a lot of the questions, and the Indigenous youth responses in the report, resonated with her.
“The more that people get involved and the more that people start to interact with different people in different communities, they’ll really start to see the potential there and how possible is to make changes,” Lewis said.