Population growth hopeful sign for NS reserves

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By Joseph Quesnel, AIMS Fellow

Some new Census data from Statistics Canada about Nova Scotia may hold opportunity and promise for the province’s Indigenous communities.

The first release of data from the 2016 census is showing more evidence of a population exodus from the province towards other provinces. According to a Chronicle-Herald news story, Nova Scotia showed an overall population growth rate of 0.2 per cent, which translated into just 2,000 new residents. The Atlantic province’s rate was much lower than the national rate of five per cent growth. New Brunswick was even lower as it decreased by 0.5 per cent. PEI only increased by 1.9 per cent and Newfoundland and Labrador only increased by one per cent.

However, the lower population growth is not uniform across Nova Scotia. Although some rural regions showed some decline, there were other rural areas that did not. In particular, many First Nations in Nova Scotia showed increases much higher than the provincial average. For example, Membertou First Nation, an Indigenous community in Cape Breton, enjoyed an 11.3 per cent growth rate. This compares to the province of Cape Breton which saw a decrease of 3.2 per cent over the same period.

Eskasoni First Nation, the largest Indigenous community in Nova Scotia, experienced 3.4 per cent population growth. This is not unlike most other Indigenous communities across Canada, where the youth population is booming, much higher than in other non-Aboriginal communities.

Clearly, younger First Nations in Nova Scotia are attached to their communities and families. Policy makers must be taking advantage of this booming younger demographic within Nova Scotia reserves. Those young people are going to need jobs and opportunities.

Perhaps some inspiration can be drawn from other regions of Canada. Just recently, the CBC reported that a trade school for First Nation students just opened in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Many of those students will come from isolated Northern reserves with few opportunities, beyond band jobs. Education officials and First Nation leaders have often had to deal with funding and jurisdictional issues related to Indigenous schooling, mainly because it is a federal responsibility. One student in the CBC piece mentioned how he wanted to be the first qualified mechanic on his reserve. The piece also questions why there are any impediments to young community members learning how to start their own hair dressing business or bakery.

Opening trade schools and programs for First Nation students in Nova Scotia and all over Atlantic Canada would provide opportunities for the growing population of young people, many of whom are not necessarily interested in college or university. It would also create an entrepreneurial spirit that is needed on so many reserves.

See also: AIMS President Marco Navarro-Génie quoted in the Globe and Mail recently about census data and Atlantic Canadian demographics. Link here.

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