The data presented in a report released last week on systemic racism in Edmonton is largely outdated or not Edmonton-specific.
More accurate data is required, said Lloyd Cardinal, who Dec. 1 helped launch the Vital Signs report, A Look at Systemic Racism in Edmonton. The foundation has been doing these Vital Signs reports for a decade.
The report is a cooperative effort between the Edmonton Community Foundation and Edmonton Social Planning Council (ESPC) as a way to “measure how the community is doing.”
But the lack of data in certain places had the group relying heavily on their advisory committee “to help provide context, fill gaps and guide the information in the report so that we could paint an accurate picture as possible as the information was available,” said Susan Morrissey, executive director of ESPC.
Cardinal, co-chair of Indigenous Circle with End Poverty Edmonton, presented some of that context when he pointed out that the report says 59 per cent of the 2,802 people experiencing homelessness were Indigenous, according to data from Homeward Trust Edmonton April 2022.
He knows that percentage is much higher. He has worked in the inner city for years. He said he was told by a friend who services this demographic that the figure is between 80 to 90 per cent.
“I have a concern about the accuracy of data collection and how it’s collected when it comes to Indigenous people in an urban context,” said Cardinal, who is Nehiyawak/Cree with both Métis and Treaty ancestry.
He contends that neither the federal government nor the province supports disenfranchised Indigenous people when they move off reserve. That responsibility falls on the municipalities, “who are unable to deal with the reality. I’m talking about what we see in the inner city.”
According to Statistics Canada, Edmonton has the second largest urban Indigenous population in Canada. That 2016 census figure of 76,205, or six per cent, was not included in Vital Signs report. However, the report does offer up an Alberta Labour Force statistic from 2019 showing Alberta with the fourth highest percentage (4.9 per cent) of Indigenous people living off-reserve in the working age population, with 40 per cent residing in Edmonton.
“With so many of our urban First Peoples being disenfranchised, they are disconnected from inherent and Indigenous rights and treated by our society as if they don’t have any rights at all. So how can statistics be correct when it comes to First Peoples in an urban context? Like me, they blow around in the wind without identity, without culture, without a connection to their ancestors,” said Cardinal.
He said he was raised in Wolf Lake in northern Alberta on the land by his grandfather, a Second World War veteran. On May 6, 1960, the lands and rights of his people were rescinded. They were forced off the land by the government. Most left, scattering to other reserves, but Cardinal’s grandfather stayed.
“If you want to understand Indigenous homelessness, which is a slow genocide, you first have to know and understand the history of this land and the impacts of colonization,” said Cardinal.
“This is why we are in the city. This is why we face homelessness. This is why our people face poverty is because land was taken from our people. And this is how I ended up in the city. And there are many, many other Indigenous people in our city that have faced the same reality,” he said.
There are no Edmonton or Alberta-specific statistics offered in the report for housing. However, Canada-wide statistics from 2018 indicate that 9.4 per cent of those living off-reserve are renters of social and affordable housing; 3.8 per cent are renters in market housing; and 3.1 per cent are home owners.
“We acknowledge the lack of desegregated data and the limits of what we can report. We recognize this does not fully represent the variety of cultures that make up Edmonton,” say the authors of the report.
Cardinal warns that gathering correct data must be a careful process.
This past October, the Edmonton Police Commission decided it would lobby the province to include race on government-issued identification. Chief Dale McFee, who is Métis, said the inclusion would give the police a “better, accurate understanding” of the community they are dealing with.
Commissioner Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, Cree and Mohawk from Michel First Nation, favoured the change and didn’t anticipate any dissension among First Nations people as many already carried Treaty cards.
“The Edmonton Police Commission recently voting to support race identity labels on drivers as a way to gather that data. We should stand against this in every way,” said Cardinal.
“Labeling us with races is furthering racism. Data needs to be generated in safe, trusting, discreet places that protects the dignity of a person so that it can be used to understand racism and plan anti-racism,” he said.
Statistics provided in the report from Black Lives Matter Edmonton 2017 underscore Cardinal’s concerns with EPS involvement in collecting race-based data. Indigenous Edmontonians were four times more likely to be street checked by police than white Edmontonians. Indigenous women faced the highest rates of carding at 6.5 times the rate of white women.
The 32-page Vital Signs report focuses on Indigenous, Black and people of colour and examines the history of racism in Edmonton; education, income and employment inequality; housing, safety and mental health; civic engagement; and living in Edmonton.
According to 2021 census data, 42.5 per cent of people who live in Edmonton identify as non-white, with 5.5 per cent identifying as Indigenous.
Graduation rates in 2019-2020 for Indigenous students attending Edmonton Public and Edmonton Catholic schools is well below the overall graduation rate.
According to province-wide statistics from 2019 for education of Indigenous people living off-reserve, 42.3 per cent had completed post-secondary education, with 9.4 per cent of those obtaining university degrees. One-quarter had a high school diploma compared to the provincial average of 14.3 per cent.
Other interesting Edmonton-specific statistics indicate that representation in the arts was lacking. In 2019-2020, only 10 per cent of playwrights for the Citadel Theatre were Indigenous; approximately five per cent of actors were Indigenous; and there were no Indigenous directors.
As for the Art Gallery of Alberta, the report states the Biennial was “re-thought” in 2020 to now have one-third of the 39 artists either Indigenous or persons of colour and two of four curators are Indigenous.
Anna Marie Sewell is Edmonton’s only Indigenous poet laureate of nine who have held that position. However, there have been four others who are either Black or persons of colour.
Edmonton has one Indigenous city councillor. Aaron Paquette was joined for his second term on council in 2021 by two persons of colour.
The report outlines three calls to action, including remembering “we are all treaty people…(so) strengthen your capacity to be an ally.” It also calls for people to attend at least one community town hall, and to volunteer and support racially diverse grassroots initiatives and organizations.
The full report can be read at https://www.ecfoundation.org/blog/2022-vital-signs-report/