Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Migration Theories and First Nations Mobility: Towards a Systems Perspective *

Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Migration Theories and First Nations Mobility: Towards a Systems Perspective *

Article excerpt

THE URBANIZATION of the Canadian Aboriginal population has received considerable attention since the 1970s, both in the popular press and from academics. As Peters (1996) suggests, much of this discussion has centred on urbanization as a social problem, focussing on issues such as poverty among Aboriginal people in the city, an inability to assimilate to an urban lifestyle, discrimination, crime and alcoholism. In large part, migration has been characterized as a response to poor economic and social conditions in reserve communities. (1) Education and employment are generally considered to be the main factors that motivate people to move to the city. More recently, it has become apparent that there is a considerable amount of migration from cities to reserves, as well as from Aboriginal communities to urban areas (Norris, Cooke, Beavon and Guimond, 2004; Clatworthy, 1996). To the extent that it has been investigated, migration to reserves has largely been treated as return mobility undertaken by those who have had difficulties finding employment or adapting to life in the city. However, there has been little direct work on understanding the motivations behind migration, and much of the recent research implies motivations from the age, sex and human capital characteristics of migrants. Unfortunately, these characteristics have not been very useful in predicting migration in either direction, suggesting that our inferences about the reasons for migration may be faulty, or at least give a very incomplete picture of the factors that affect peoples' migration decisions. As well, census data are not able to adequately capture return migration or circulation and are therefore limited in their ability to describe the causes and patterns of repeat migration. Studies of migration have also not given adequate consideration to the role of Aboriginal organizations in the city, or to the various types of personal and institutional links that would encourage migration between the two areas. By considering moves to be the result of discrete individual decisions, recent analyses of migration have tended to ignore the broader context in which these decisions are made.

The objective of this paper is to use qualitative interview data to improve our theoretical understanding of this migration stream, including the factors that affect individual migration decisions and the large amount of mobility in both directions that has been observed in recent decades. First, we review the existing literature on First Nations migration in Canada. We then report the major themes found in an analysis of qualitative data from a small number of semi-structured interviews with Registered Indians (2) who had moved between First Nations communities and the city of Winnipeg. We find that these exploratory data support some of the conclusions in the existing literature, including the importance of cultural connections and economic opportunities, but also suggest the importance of a variety of ongoing connections between sending and receiving communities. Taking an inductive approach to theory (Glaser and Strauss, 1967), we then turn to literature on other migration streams in order to incorporate these themes into a theoretical framework. We propose a systems approach to migration that may help guide future empirical research by incorporating elements of the broader context of migration, as well as identifying specific types of linkages between the two areas. Developed in studies of international migration, a systems perspective redirects attention to the ways in which migration in both directions is encouraged or hampered by the presence or absence of particular types of networks and linkages between the two areas.

Characterizations of Aboriginal Migration

The urbanization of Canadian Aboriginal people was the subject of rising interest in the 1960s and 1970s, when the increasing number of Aboriginal people living in urban centres and their living conditions came to the attention of academics and the popular press. …

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