Aboriginal women in need of ‘meaningful work,’ report

Few jobs available in rural Newfoundland and Labrador

There are almost no employment opportunities for Aboriginal women in small and rural communities in Newfoundland and Labrador and there’s a gender disparity in hiring that favours men for the few available jobs, according to a recent report.

“The availability for employment for Aboriginal women as a whole is a crucial part of maintaining cultural ties within their communities,” said Judy White, author of the report The Path to the Good Life.

“Most Aboriginal women want to work within their communities because it keeps them close to their cultural roots and their children.”

The report, released last month, is based on the outcome of the province’s first-ever conference on Aboriginal women’s issues, which was held in March. The conference brought together about 60 Aboriginal women from different communities including Innu, Inuit, Mi’kmaq and Métis.

Various provincial representatives attended the conference, including Joan Burke, the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, and representatives from the Nunavut government.

Annual income of 13.3 K

The life of an Aboriginal woman isn’t easy. According to a 2000 Statistics Canada report, the average annual income of Aboriginal women is $13,300, compared to $18,200 for Aboriginal men and $19,350 for non-Aboriginal women.

As part of maintaining their culture, Aboriginal women said they want culturally-specific work in their own communities. This could include fishing, working with Aboriginal youth or assisting Aboriginal elders, said White.

“There was a concern that they wanted real and meaningful work,” she said.

However, all levels of government will have to provide money and resources to help create these opportunities in Aboriginal communities, said White.

“They also need to work with the Aboriginal governments to ensure these things continue to be a priority,” she said.

Travel a barrier

The provincial government is already taking steps to help Aboriginals take advantage of the labour shortage in the skilled trades. The government invested $5 million in trades programs at North Atlantic College’s Happy Valley Goose Bay campus (the campus most accessible to the province’s Aboriginal population) to accommodate more students, said Burke.

However, the training and apprenticeship programs often involve travel, which makes it difficult for Aboriginal women to take part, she said.

“The social supports for families may not be in place for them to take advantage of the training and the employment opportunities afterward,” she said. The women would need better and more flexible child care, said Burke.

The province is holding another conference in November, as well as a national summit on Aboriginal women’s issues next year to discuss possible solutions to the problems raised in White’s report.

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