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The First Peoples or Aboriginal Peoples are the First Nations, the Métis and Inuit, and it is CUPE’s goal in getting this diverse group into the workplace and the union at all levels in proportion to the numbers in Canada’s population.

1.  CUPE must assist in reducing poor employment statistics. According to 2006 census data, unemployment rates for Aboriginal groups continue to be at more than double the rate of the non-Aboriginal population. The unemployment rate among core working-age Aboriginal people - those aged 25 to 54 - in 2006 was 13.2 per cent, while the unemployment rate for non-Aboriginal people is 5.2 per cent. The labour force data shows the employment rate for Aboriginal Canadians in 2006 was 65.8 per cent. Registered Indians (from Assemblies of First Nations report) have the lowest labour force participation rate of any First Peoples group, with a rate of 54 per cent. First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities are young and will be contributing to the labour force and communities across the country. The median age among the Inuit is 22 years old, First Nations 25 and Métis 30 - compared with the median age for the non-Aboriginal community which is 40 years of age. We see a new strategy has to be executed as a way to improve employment opportunities for Aboriginal people. A representative workforce strategy includes partnership agreements. The council concept may be a vehicle to drive the strategy (snapshot of workforce - prepare community for upcoming shortages). The partnerships may involve the union, the provincial government, municipal governments, educational institutions and employers. By entering into this agreement, the union demonstrates our commitment to working with all to create representative workplaces.

2.   Councils deal with demographics. CUPE must be aware of the changing demographics. There are over 600 First Nations and 10 distinct First Nations language families in Canada. The First Nations population increased 29 per cent between 1996 and 2006. Aboriginal people are the nation’s youngest and fastest growing human resource. Canada’s Aboriginal population has increased 45 per cent over a decade nearly six times faster than the 8 per cent rate of growth for the non-Aboriginal population over the same period. Ontario and the western provinces combined accounted for an estimated 577,300 First Nations people, or 83 per cent of this group’s total population. About 158,395, or 23 per cent, lived in Ontario; 129,580, or 19 per cent, lived in British Columbia; 100,645, or 14 per cent, in Manitoba; 97,275, or 14 per cent, in Alberta; and 91,400, or 13 per cent, in Saskatchewan. Despite the large populations in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, First Nations people there accounted for 3 per cent or less of the respective provincial populations. Nearly 30,000 businesses in Canada are owned by Aboriginal persons and half are in urban areas. Nearly 50 per cent of Aboriginal people in Canada live in cities rather than on reserves. Aboriginal people have land claims that affect at least 20 per cent of the Canadian land mass - a figure that is expected to rise in the next 15 years. High numbers of Aboriginal youth will be soon entering workforce age and we need to develop strategies now that will open the employment doors to Aboriginal youth.

3.   Councils will assist in addressing the costs of under-employing Aboriginal people. The cost of under-utilizing our workforce must be borne by everyone. There will be an enormous savings if we can take every opportunity to ensure that Aboriginal people have access to jobs and economic activity. It has been estimated that by working together and providing training and employment opportunities for First Peoples, Saskatchewan can expect an estimated gain of 1.2 billion annually due to reduced health, human justice services and social assistance costs. If the gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians were closed in terms of education and employment then the country’s gross domestic product would increase by $160 billion by 2017.

4.   Commitments have been an issue in addressing under representation. You need a committed union leadership. The National Executive Board supports the idea of a representative workforce and is committed to developing strategies to achieve this. One of the strategies is the changing face of our union and to assist in inclusiveness is the creation of Aboriginal councils.

5.   Councils can assist in addressing negative retainment statistics. Understanding of cultural values and traditions has a significant effect on under representation. Education is critical in order for members and workers to support a representative workforce and an Aboriginal council. Numerous myths and misconceptions dealing with First Peoples have been a barrier to representative numbers in crucial statistical areas.

6.   Councils can be a large player in addressing our members. Misunderstandings must be addressed. Councils can address misunderstandings. You need to get the membership on side. We recognize that education is critical in order for the members to support a representative workplace strategy which includes the formation of an Aboriginal council.

7.   Councils will address First Peoples misunderstandings and negative image of our unions. To assist in this component, inclusive union spaces must be created within the union for Aboriginal participation. In some regions our union has seen an increase in Aboriginal participation in the activities and decision-making of the union since the creation of a CUPE Aboriginal Council. Non positive relationships must be repaired. The council will address building positive relationships - between employer, union and Aboriginal community. We must create understanding between two cultures that have separate histories.

8.   Councils can assist in ways of being resources on the strategies currently in place to involving employers in hiring and retaining First Peoples. Not many employers conform to the goal of having a workplace which is representative of the community they service. The Union believes that a representative workforce will be continued following a strategy entitled “Representative Workforce” (snapshot of workforce - prepare community for upcoming shortages) for Aboriginal Peoples.

9.   Having a council is beneficial to all. Councils have a built-in network when they work together with other regional/provincial/divisional/local councils and the National Aboriginal Council. It has been found that CUPE union leaders now have an extra tool at their disposal to speak on First Peoples issues with authority.

10.  Membership numbers in our union must be constantly dealt with. To assist in moving the CUPE agenda forward we must always address membership numbers. Aboriginal People are the largest growing population group in Canada and the continuous trend towards improving employment numbers of Aboriginal content means the union’s membership numbers will increase through organizing strategies. First Peoples organizations are currently not represented by any unions. Organizing these communities increases our abilities and resources in moving the CUPE agenda forward.

11.  The council can assist in adjusting other inequities. Under the same conditions, that is working full-time all year, women of colour earn only 64 per cent and Aboriginal women an appalling 46 per cent as much as men. The annual income of Aboriginal peoples is significantly lower than other Canadians. Among Aboriginal people living in metropolitan areas, nearly 42 per cent had low incomes - more than half the national average. Poverty affects 60 per cent of Aboriginal children. Twenty per cent of Aboriginal people have inadequate water and sewer systems. Aboriginals make up 4.4 per cent of the Canadian population but account for 17 per cent of the people in prison. Cases of tuberculosis are six times higher than the rest of Canada. Life expectancy among the Inuit is 10 years lower than the rest of Canada. First Nations Child and Family Services was created and administered by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) to reduce the number of children in state care. Canada’s Attorney General found the opposite is happening, with 8,300 First Nations (FN) children taken into state care as a result of the program. According to the Assemblies of First Nations (AFN), more FN children are in state care today than at the height of the residential schools system - 3 times as many or 27,000 children.

12.  This is just the right thing to do - it is a national tragedy that employers have not yet removed barriers to First Peoples to participate at a representative level and the demographics speak of a disaster in the making if nothing is done to resolve these issues. Unions also play a pivotal role. Unions must strive for the creation of councils and support the efforts of councils. Unions fight for workers’ rights, for full employment, for justice in our society. We must also work to remove barriers to Aboriginal peoples and create more representative workplaces and unions.

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