Only major changes in approach to Indian education and job training programs can avert a major crisis among B.C. Indians, says a paper presented to the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
The paper prepared by Chief Philip Paul of the Tsartlip Band at Brentwood Bay on Vancouver Island says unemployment and under-education are plaguing Indian attempts to overcome obstacles stemming from rapid social and economic changes.
It says Indians are staying in school longer these days, and many adults are returning for upgrading courses and vocational training but says these developments have not been enough to reverse a feeling of pessimism.
“Reserves can grow poorer even as small improvements are made in land use,” it says “Young people can get higher education only to learn that academic requirements of the labor market have moved ahead faster than their own progress in school.”
The report says the number of Indian people training in the professional and sub-professional fields – is far too small for the basis of growth needed to solve future problems.
“As long as current patterns of education and vocational prerequisites and training opportunities are maintained, there is virtually no hope for any but those few who are the most aggressive.”
And it says the impending crisis is being fanned “by a widespread awakening, especially among the younger people, as to what tomorrow could and should hold.”
“Our people cannot afford to have their dreams again turn to bitterness and disillusionment… we must have roads instead of treadmills. Changes must come about quickly before another generation loses their chance to help build that future,” the report says.
The report points out that per capita, Indians make only 20 per cent of the average Canadian’s earnings, with more Indians on welfare than on payrolls.
At the present education retention rates, only 10 per cent of B.C.’s 23,000 Indian children under the age of 15 will finish grade nine, and only three per cent will complete high school.
“Even if the high school completion rate should jump by over 600 per cent to 20 per cent, that would still mean that over 18,000 Indian children now under 15 will enter their adult lives as virtually unemployable.
More Indian children must complete school to act as “compelling models” for other Indian students, says the report and employment opportunities must be expanded and administrative changes made to give the Indian people more responsibility.
It suggests there are ways to organize Indian manpower to compete for jobs without repudiating cultural patterns through “piecework approaches” or “labor- force co-operatives” on the reserves.
“In short, many ways must be developed to more efficiently link the productivity of the Indian labor force to work opportunities in the mainstream economy.”
The report calls for more development of Indian lands and resources and suggests that contemporary forms of economic development be explored in fields historically attractive to the Indian people, such as marine biology and farming developments, forest resources management and Indian arts and handicrafts.
And it suggests the need for more Indian educational counselors, revisions of some of the history books that Indians feel are negative, and also the establishment of Indian community colleges or departments.
But the report says the changes must come now.
“To wait is to allow the problem to grow to crisis proportions, making future solutions almost impossible.”
The meeting of the chiefs also set up a committee of 14 to draft a paper answering the federal government’s proposals contained in its White Paper on Indian Affairs from the B.C. Indians’ viewpoint. The meeting also demanded a full-scale investigation into recent suicides by Indian inmates in the B.C. penitentiary.
Chief Paul said there have been two suicides in the penitentiary in the past two years, and another suicide by an Indian inmate of the William Head Institution on Vancouver Island last week.