By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A study released earlier this week shows that Manitoba is the province with the highest rates of child poverty in Canada, and First Nations leaders in this province say they are concerned because they know a high number of those children living in poverty in this province are First Nations children.
On Tuesday, the Poverty, Pandemic and the Province report was released which shows troubling levels of child poverty in Manitoba.
According to the report, Manitoba’s child poverty rate sits at 20.68%, the highest childhood poverty rate of any province, and 7.21% higher than the national average. Only the Territory of Nunavut has a higher rate of child poverty at 28.09%.
The study also shows troubling number related to First Nations children and youth, as currently in Manitoba 41.6% of First Nations children live in poverty, a higher rate than any other demographic group, according to the report.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said those numbers “reflect the enduring consequences of colonialism, marginalization, and discrimination,” and said she is now asking the province to do more to include First Nations leaders and representation in discussions and policy decisions surrounding child poverty.
“This is the cost of exclusion, and the continued refusal to engage with First Nations leadership on policy and legislative development that has historically led to devastating impacts on our families,” Merrick said.
“It is extremely disappointing.”
The report also found that children and youth living in poverty are at a higher risk for negative health outcomes including pre-term birth, child mortality, and suicide, and are also more likely to experience poor educational outcomes.
“We continue to endure overrepresentation amongst poverty statistics, despite the recognition of the systemic nature of these circumstances and institutional oppression which creates these poor outcomes,” Merrick said.
“The government in this province does little to take accountability nor do they make adequate efforts to challenge the normalization of our suffering and the constant stereotypes our citizens are subjected to as a result of this discriminatory treatment.
“It is time to target policies in a manner that reconciles the ongoing discrimination that keeps our families in poverty.”
In a statement to the Winnipeg Sun, a provincial spokesperson said the province wants to work with Indigenous people and organizations to slow those poverty rates among Indigenous children and youth, but also said that poverty reduction in this province is a “shared responsibility.”
“The Manitoba government values conversations with Indigenous rights holders and community partners on how to best support Indigenous children, youth and families,” the spokesperson said.
“Poverty reduction is a shared responsibility. Manitoba is committed to working collaboratively with all levels of government, community partners and other stakeholders in both private and public sectors to ensure that children and families in our province will have a brighter future.”
The spokesperson also claimed the province recognizes the increased risk of poverty among First Nations families is “directly linked to factors including intergenerational trauma, colonialism, and structural racism,” and said the province has been putting programs and policies in place to try and lower child poverty in Manitoba, and among First Nations children and youth.
“The province has implemented various measures to help Manitobans who are struggling with the high cost of living. These include increasing the minimum wage and rent assist rates, and issuing affordability payments,” the spokesperson said.
“As well, the Manitoba government has already established partnerships with Indigenous organizations to provide culturally-appropriate supports to help Indigenous individuals and families stabilize and thrive. Some examples include the original and expansion sites of Granny’s House, Clan Mothers Healing Village, the Community Helpers Initiative, and N’Dinawemak.”
-Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.