First Nations job numbers 'appalling', economist says

A new report says employment of First Nations in Saskatchewan is seriously lagging.

"Our employment record of First Nations people is — frankly the word is appalling," Eric Howe, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said Monday.

Howe, an economics professor, found that in 2006, 58.6 per cent of the province's First Nations population, aged 15 - 69, did not have a high school diploma. He compared that to 29.9 per cent of the total population with no high school diploma.

The education gap, Howe found, is having an impact when First Nations enter the job market.

Ronald Gaskin, a Saskatoon student currently in Grade 12, says education is key to finding even a service-industry job.

"Education is everything," Gaskin told CBC News Monday. "Some places you even have to get your Grade 11, close to a Grade 11 just to work at McDonald's."

Howe says First Nations are underemployed in some key Saskatchewan industries, such as mining and provincial Crown corporations, such as SaskPower.

"Those two industries are notable just because of this difference between public relations and reality," Howe said. "First Nations people are not getting employed in those industries."

According to Howe, improving First Nations employment will lead to economic gains for the province, with an estimated value — by him — of some $20 billion over 20 years.

Howe described First Nations as a valuable resource that is being ignored.

According to Howe's research, Saskatchewan lags behind Alberta and Manitoba when it comes to aboriginal workers finding a job.

Howe noted the province recently ended an aboriginal employment program while launching a program geared for newcomers.

Simon Bird, a vice-chief with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, called the situation a crisis.

"If we don't invest in our people now, our First Nations people, we are losing out not only for our people but for everybody in Saskatchewan," Bird said.

According to Howe, some of the information in his report is based upon 2006 census details and could not be updated because the census of 2011 did not use a long form for data collection.

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