The Aboriginal Demographic Landscape in Ontario
According to the Government of Canada 2006 Census, Canada’s Aboriginal population numbers over 1.1 million people. Of this, 1/5 lives in Ontario, which is approximately 231,000 people; moreover, upwards of 10% of Ontario’s Aboriginal population lives in the Northern part of Ontario. A full 10% of Thunder Bay and a full 20% of Kenora’s population have identified themselves as First Nations. In terms of population growth, in the decade prior to 2006, the Aboriginal population grew by 45%, which is 6 times faster than the 8% growth rate for non-Aboriginal people.
Post Secondary Completion
In terms of postsecondary completion, 9% of Ontario’s Aboriginal population, aged 25 to 64, had completed a Bachelor’s degree and 36%, aged 25 to 64, had completed a College Diploma or trade program. This compares to 22% of non-Aboriginal population who hold Bachelor’s degrees and 51% who have completed a College Diploma or apprenticeship. Although gains have been made, particularly in college and apprenticeship training, significant education gaps remain in enrolment and retention of Aboriginal learners, especially when considered in the context of the rate of Aboriginal population growth.
Ontario’s Aboriginal population will grow to 267 000 by 2017, a 16% increase from today and the number of young Aboriginal learners, aged 20-29, will grow by 22% compared to 9% growth by non-Aboriginal youth. Considering that 70% of the jobs by 2017 will require some form of postsecondary education to participate in largely a knowledge-based economy, postsecondary attainment is vital to the well being of Aboriginal people and their communities.
Areas of Progress
Ontario has seen some progress. For example, increasing numbers of Aboriginal people are attending colleges, accessing training and skills development; as well, Aboriginal institutions, colleges and universities are becoming increasingly committed to supporting Aboriginal learners so they achieve positive results in post-secondary settings. In fact, the educational gap is shrinking in the area of non-university postsecondary completion with more learners completing trade schools and college programs. Finally, increased numbers of employers and sectors are acknowledging the need to recruit Aboriginal employees.
Poverty and financial barriers remain the biggest barriers to attaining postsecondary education for Aboriginal learners. 31.2% of Aboriginal families were living in low income situations compared with 12.9% of non-aboriginal families. The average income was $28,000 compared to $38,000 incurring extra relocation expenses for Aboriginal learners pursuing postsecondary education. Lack of high school completion and academic preparedness for students on reserve schools is a significant barrier. Three other barriers include social/cultural barriers, absence of Aboriginal role models and insensitivity to Aboriginal histories, cultures, world views and knowledge system.