Cuthand: Indigenous population growth must lead to increased education

We are at a serious crossroads and every opportunity must be taken to uplift our people in a positive direction.

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The latest census data is out and it reveals an interesting trend that is developing in Saskatchewan.

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Data collected in the 2021 census shows that half of Saskatchewan’s population is under the age of 40. On the other hand, the indigenous population has doubled in the last two decades, so that half of our population is under 20 years old.

When the Aboriginal population is taken into account in the general population, the average age of non-Aboriginal people is much higher.

Across Canada, the Aboriginal population is the fastest growing group in Canada. Currently, 165,000 people are registered in Saskatchewan’s 71 First Nations. This figure has doubled since the year 2000 and is expected to double again in two decades.

Meanwhile, the province’s population languishes around one million, where it has been for years.

Cities and towns near larger cities are growing, but rural Saskatchewan is shrinking. Cities are drying up as grain elevators, schools and businesses close. Meanwhile, reservation communities are growing in population; in many cases they are now larger than the local town.

Over the years there has been a migration from reserves to cities and towns. Today, approximately half of the Aboriginal population lives on and off reserve. The trend is not uniform, and southern reservations generally have an off-reserve population of 70-80%, while in the north only about 5% live off-reserve.

The pressure is on to educate our rapidly growing population. Our leaders must prioritize education. We need to tackle the high dropout rate and help our students graduate from grade 12.

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The great fear is that we will fail and that lack of education will lead to unemployment, increased gang activity and the resulting prison population growth. We are at a serious crossroads and every opportunity must be taken to uplift our people in a positive direction.

We now have a record number of students in post-secondary institutions, but it needs to be increased to meet the demands of our rapidly growing population. Companies need to get involved and create apprenticeships and on-the-job training.

I also see a black cloud on the horizon. With a declining and aging rural population, we are in growing danger of rising racism and racial violence.

Rural crime incidents are fairly rare in Saskatchewan, but when they do occur, they send shockwaves of fear through the community. Farmers and other rural residents are now arming themselves and feeling increasingly isolated. Fear is a breeding ground for racism and people who are afraid are dangerous people.

We cannot let Saskatchewan become the Wild West. There must be a meeting of minds and a shared sense of security. Our people don’t like violence and gang activity any more than white people.

Now we have reserve security working with the RCMP and helping to keep the peace. We see our security as peacekeepers who protect the population. Local residents need to know what we are doing and work with us.

The future of this province must include First Nations. In the near future, we will occupy leadership positions and help guide the economic and social growth of the province.

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MPs like Betty Nippi Albright, Doyle Vermette and Jim Lemaigre represent the future.

A CBC survey found that during the pandemic, many rural residents have become more right-wing. Currently, Saskatchewan has a Sask. The majority of the party and all federal seats belong to the Conservatives. This makes Saskatchewan the most conservative of all the provinces.

On the other hand, the indigenous population is more to the left. Most tend to vote for the NDP, while the elite support the Liberals. In the past, many of our fellow citizens supported the Conservatives because they liked John Diefenbaker for his support and his populism. It was Dief who gave us the vote at the federal level.

Going forward, all political parties will need to have a strong Aboriginal platform if they hope to be elected provincially.

All Saskatchewan residents face a challenge for the future. We must come together and work to build a future where all our future generations can live in peace and prosperity.

Doug Cuthand is the Aboriginal affairs columnist for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the Regina Leader-Post. He is a member of Little Pine First Nation.

  1. Doug Cuthand is the Aboriginal affairs columnist for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the Regina Leader-Post.

    Cuthand: First Nations fought to be included in the Charter 40 years ago

  2. Doug Cuthand is the Aboriginal affairs columnist for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the Regina Leader-Post.

    Cuthand: Change needed for outdated First Nations funding in Canada

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