Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Social Cohesion? a Critical Review of the Urban Aboriginal Strategy and Its Application to Address Homelessness in Winnipeg

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Social Cohesion? a Critical Review of the Urban Aboriginal Strategy and Its Application to Address Homelessness in Winnipeg

Article excerpt

Abstract / Résumé

Aboriginal self-determination has been reasserted over the past few decades. The right of self-government is recognised in federal policy. Social welfare goals have been articulated in terms of developing greater social cohesion. Aboriginal people in urban areas have received significant attention given their disproportionate socio-economic marginalisation and the threat this poses to social cohesion. The Urban Aboriginal Strategy was introduced to help deal with this marginalisation.

Au cours des dernières décennies, on a réaffirmé l'autodétermination des Autochtones. Le droit à l'autonomie gouvernementale est reconnu dans les politiques fédérales. On a articulé des objectifs de sécurité sociale dans un cadre de développement de la cohésion sociale. Les Autochtones des zones urbaines ont bénéficié d'une attention importante en raison de leur marginalisation socio-économique disproportionnée et de la menace que cela fait planer sur la cohésion sociale. La Stratégie pour les Autochtones vivant en milieu urbain a été élaborée pour traiter une telle marginalisation.

The number of Aboriginal people living in cities is increasing, and this trend presents opportunities for economic and cultural growth and diversification in urban Canada.1 Forty-nine percent of the population identifying as Aboriginal in 2001 resided in urban areas (Statistics Canada, 2003). Compared with the non-Aboriginal urban population Aboriginal people, however, face some acute cultural, social, and economic challenges. Education levels tend to be lower, unemployment rates higher, and incomes are on average lower than those of the non-Aboriginal population (Hanselmann, 2001). Aboriginal homelessness in major urban areas ranges from 20 to 50 percent of the total homeless population (Canada, Privy Council Office 2002 as cited in Graham and Peters, 2002). A homeless count in 2002 conducted by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg revealed that over 75 percent of people in city shelters or on the street were Aboriginal people (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2004).

The Aboriginal right of self-determination, sometimes articulated in terms of self-government, has been re-asserted in settler societies around the world, including Canada, very noticeably since the 1970s (Sandercock, 2004; Walker, 2004). In negotiations of Aboriginal rights, nation- and land-based models have been privileged and normalised within federal government discourse, effectively marginalising many in urban Aboriginal communities (Andersen and Denis, 2003). This too is a trend that is not restricted to the Canadian experience (see Barcham (2000) for a discussion of this challenge among urban Maori in Aotearoa/ New Zealand).

The Urban Aboriginal Strategy (UAS), housed in the Privy Council Office, was started in 1998 to improve policy and program development at the federal level, and with other governments, to deal with the growing socio-economic disparity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in urban areas. The UAS coincides with a growing government focus on the goal of social cohesion, or the overall state of social bonds in a society (Jenson and Saint-Martin, 2003), and competitive urban centres (Government of Canada, 2004; Prime Minister's Caucus Task Force on Urban Issues, 2002). Groups that are disproportionately marginalised, scholars argue, threaten both social cohesion and the economic potential of city-regions (Bradford, 2002; Forrest and Kearns, 2001).

The empirical basis for this paper is an analysis of policies, documents and personal interviews. From this analysis an argument is advanced that while the UAS represents a positive step forward in federal intervention into urban Aboriginal policy and programming, it does not aim to substantiate the Aboriginal right of self-determination. In this way, it represents a step backward in Aboriginal affairs. Through its rationale and implementation, the UAS has in effect contributed to the circumvention of Aboriginal rights to self-government and self-determination that have been recognised federally and internationally (Government of Canada, 1997; United Nations, 1994). …

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