Labor Force Attachment and Regional Development for Native Peoples Theoretical and Methodological Issues

Over the past 15 years, a common theme to the various studies commissioned by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northem Development (DIAND) has been the differences in the labour force and employment conditions of Native Peoples compared to other Canadians. 1 In Indian Conditions: A Survey (Canada 1980: 58-59), participation in the wage economy in 1976 was 40 percent for Indians compared to the national level of 60 per cent and Indian unemployment was estimated to be 18 per cent compared to 8 percent for the national labour force. Using the 1981 Census, Nicholson and MacMillan (1986: 52) found only 38 percent of the Indian population employed compared to 60 per cent of the Canadian population. Nicholson and MacMillan (1986:52-53) also found the off-reserve Indians had a substantially higher employment rate (47 per cent) compared to on-reserve Indians (32 per cent) and that for on-reserve Indians, 29 per cent had never worked compared to 16 per cent of Indians off-reserve and only 10 per cent of other Canadians. Census data for 1986 show that employment rates for Indians remain low (31.4 percent) compared to those for all Canadians (50.6 percent). Twenty-eight percent of Indians on reserves were employed compared to 36.8 percent of Indians livingoff reserves, and 23.6 percent of Indians on reserves had never worked compared to 17.0 percent of Indians living off reserves (Canada 1989). The above statistics provide a rationale for examining the theoretical and methodological issues surrounding Native Peoples’ attachment to the labour force and the implications for regional development. Beyond this, however, is also the recognition that self-government for Native Peoples is a fast-approaching reality. With self-government will also come the realization that it will be a hollow enterprise if it does not lead to the improved economic well-being of Native Peoples. Therefore, it is a useful first step to examine what is known about Native Peoples’ attachment to the labour force.