Cuthand: Indigenous population growth must lead to increased education

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

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

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The data collected in the 2021 census shows that half of Saskatchewan’s population is under 40 years of age. On the other hand, the Indigenous population doubled in the past two decades, so half of our population is under 20.

When you factor the Indigenous population into the overall population, the average age of the non-Indigenous people is much higher.

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

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

The cities and towns close to the biggest cities show growth, but rural Saskatchewan is shrinking. Towns are drying up as grain elevators, schools and businesses close. Meanwhile, the reserve 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 the reserves to the cities and towns. Now about half the Indigenous population live on and off reserves. The trend is not uniform, and reserves in the south tend to have a 70 to 80 per cent off-reserve population while in the north, only about five per cent live off-reserve.

The pressure is on to educate our rapidly growing population. Our leaders need to put a priority on education. We have to address the high dropout rate and see our students through to Grade 12 graduation.

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

Now we have record levels of students in post-secondary institutions, but it has to be increased to meet the demands of our rapidly growing population. Companies have to get involved and create apprenticeships and training on the job.

I also see a dark cloud on the horizon. With a dwindling and aging rural population, we have a growing danger of a growth in racism and racial violence.

Incidents of rural crime are fairly rare in Saskatchewan, but when they occur it sends a shock wave of fear through the population. Farmers and other rural residents are now arming themselves and feeling increasingly isolated. Fear is a breeding ground for racism and scared people are dangerous people.

We can’t allow Saskatchewan to become the wild west. There has to be a meeting of the minds and a shared sense of security. Our people don’t like violence and gang activity any more than white people do.

Now we have reserve security that works with the RCMP and helps keep the peace. We regard our security as peacekeepers who protect the population. The local residents need to know what we are doing and work with us.

This province’s future must include the First Nations. In the near future we will take positions of leadership and help direct the economic and social growth of the province.

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Members of the legislature like Betty Nippi Albright, Doyle Vermette and Jim Lemaigre represent the future.

A survey done by CBC found that during the pandemic many rural residents became more right-leaning. Right now Saskatchewan has a Sask. Party majority and all the federal seats belong to the Conservatives. This makes Saskatchewan the most conservative of all the provinces.

On the other hand, the Aboriginal population is more left-leaning. Most tend to vote NDP, while the elite support the Liberals. In the past, many of our people supported the Conservatives because they liked John Diefenbaker for his support and populism. It was Dief who gave us the vote federally.

In the future, all political parties will have to have a strong Aboriginal platform if they expect to get elected provincially.

All Saskatchewan residents are faced with a challenge for the future. We need to come together and work to make a future where all of our future generations can live in peace and prosperity.

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

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