The Saskatchewan Election:

A 2020 Perspective

Indigenous Issues and Governance Inclusion

By Mr. JASON BIRD, Lecturer, PRogram Coordinator of Indigenous Business and Public Administration, First Nations University of Canada
Jason Bird | 

The Indigenous people make up 16.3 per cent of Saskatchewan’s population,[i] a considerable voting contingent for many regions. The issues Indigenous people have are social in nature, crossing federal and provincial lines of jurisdiction, making it hard to determine how these issues get addressed. However, Indigenous people play a huge role in the social, economic, and cultural fabric of Saskatchewan and would like their concerns to play a bigger role in provincial politics; it is unclear, from past elections, to what degree of inclusion Indigenous people are receiving.

The key concern for Indigenous people is simple: ‘are their voices being heard?' The statistics appear to answer that question.

Stats Canada shows that 50 per cent of Indigenous people in urban areas were living in rental dwellings, as compared to 29 per cent for non-Indigenous people. Additionally, 24 per cent of Indigenous people in urban areas were living in low-income housing options: “Indigenous people living in neighbourhoods in which the Indigenous population made up a larger share of the total population were more likely to live in a dwelling that was in need of major repairs, a crowded dwelling, and a low-income household.” [ii] This is an issue in Saskatchewan cities such as Regina and Saskatoon.

The unemployment rate in Saskatchewan for Indigenous people in 2018 was 14.9 per cent; that is almost triple the rate for non-Indigenous citizens, which was 5.2 per cent.[iii] Stats Canada notes a few key issues for Saskatchewan Indigenous people: (a) no means of transportation—51 per cent that were unemployed noted this concern; (b) less access to Internet—87 per cent had moderate access for job searching. The other issues noted by Stats Canada were lack of jobs, deficiency in education and work experience, and not knowing where to search for work options.[iv]

Health concerns for Indigenous people, nationally and locally, are distressing: “Among the First Nations household population, the probability of living to age 75 was 53[per cent] for males and 66 [per cent] for females―22 and 18 percentage points lower than for the non-Indigenous household population”.[v] Jane Philpott notes, to the Canadian Press, the life expectancy for Indigenous people is 15 years less, with infant mortality rates being 2–3 times higher.[vi]

Reporting on the Children’s Advocate Report from 2018 concerning mental health and youth care in Saskatchewan, Kendall Latimer notes, “80 per cent of children and youth in care in Saskatchewan are Indigenous—well above the national average.” Latimer also points out, “(there were) 45 occurrences of critical injury involving 41 youth. Of those 41 children, only one was non-Indigenous.”[vii] To add to the list of concerns, Indhu Rammohan remarks that the suicide rate is three times higher for the Indigenous population.[viii]

The justice system is systemically broken: “85 per cent of female prisoners admitted to custody in 2016/17 were Indigenous, according to the Statistics Canada data”. Furthermore, “According to Statistics Canada data for 2016/17…76 per cent of admissions to Saskatchewan jails were Indigenous people.”[ix]

The issues at hand are complex but can be boiled down to one topic: devolution and the management of resources for Indigenous peoples.

Devolution is the process whereby a government passes some of its responsibility to another level of government; in this example, it goes from federal to provincial to municipal in handoffs. The idea behind devolution is that the more local the government to the problems the better equipped it is to handle those concerns since it is involved in the consequences of said issues. Also, it can be noted, the resources, which are a federal responsibility, should be spent more closely to where the issues are—in this case, at the provincial level, as it concerns Indigenous people groups living in Saskatchewan.

One huge problem is that Indigenous people signed treaties as nations with the Crown, now the federal responsibility, and not as provincial bodies. The process of devolution is not one that is shared ideologically by any First Nation in Saskatchewan, at least not in the sense of having their rights and roles relegated to dealing only with provincial bodies. That was not the interpretation Indigenous communities understood of how the treaties work, and that’s an obvious disconnect in communication.

Even if the problem is not outright defined as devolution, the problem is the handoffs of governing responsibilities from federal to provincial are real. These handoffs create constant issues for Indigenous communities: the big one being a problem of governance and who is responsible for what and when? This also means Indigenous leaders have three hands in the pot every time they want to make meaningful change for their communities; there are too many governing bodies involved to know which one is slowing down advancement, or, at the very least, the administration of resources and services that are being hindered through handoffs.

No matter the statistic you want to review on Indigenous well-being in Saskatchewan—including those related to education, housing, health, employment, or justice—you will find Indigenous people fall behind on all meaningful indicators for success. This is not because of a problem with the Indigenous nations; this is a problem with governance structures. This is the reason Indigenous voices are lost in the shuffle between federal and provincial systems.

The Indigenous population has numerous issues the Province of Saskatchewan needs to address. Regardless of federal or provincial jurisdictional lines, solutions need to happen locally through a tripartite governance structure: federal, provincial, and Indigenous nations working together, solving these problems. It is not enough to allow these handoffs of governing responsibilities to slow resources and services to Indigenous nations and act as though it is standard procedure. To not fix the problem is to take an action even it is just to deny the authenticity of the Indigenous voices, which are pushed aside and relegated to a lesser power. When it comes to governance, and elections, Indigenous governance needs a real spot at the table about how resources and services are administered to their citizens. Anything less than that and we have the status quo, and that, statistically, is untenable.


[i] Statistics Canada. (2017). Focus on Geography Series, 2016 Census. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-404-X2016001. Ottawa, Ontario. Data products, 2016 Census.

[ii] Anderson, T. (2019). Results from the 2016 Census: Housing, income and residential dissimilarity among Indigenous people in Canadian cities. Statistics, Canada, Catalogue no. 75-006-X ISSN 2291-0840. Retrieved from:

[iii] Labour Market Information (LMI) Directorate (2018). Labour Market Bulletin: Saskatchewan 2018 (Annual Edition). Retrieved from:

[iv] Statistics Canada. (2017). Labour Market Experiences of First Nations people living off reserve: Key findings from the 2017 Aboriginal Peoples Survey. Catalogue number 89-653-X2018003 ISBN 978-0-660-28240-4. Retrieved from:

[v] Tjepkema M., Bushnik T., and Bougie E. (2019). Life expectancy of First Nations, Métis and Inuit household populations in Canada. Statistics Canada, Health Reports, Vol. 30, No. 12, pp 3-10, Catalogue no. 82-003-X. Retrieved from:

[vi] The Canadian Press. (2018). Lifespan of Indigenous people 15 years shorter than that of other Canadians, federal documents say. CBC News, Health. Retrieved from:

[vii] Latimer, K. (2019). Challenges facing Sask. Indigenous youth are 'relatively flat or getting worse': children's advocate. CBC News, Saskatchewan. Retrieved from:

[viii] Rammohan, Indhu. (2019). Why do Canada’s Indigenous people face worse health outcomes than non-Indigenous people?: Medical student Paul Kim on the need for trauma-informed care, addressing the social determinants of health. The Varsity, University of Toronto Student Newspaper, Science. Retrieved from:

[ix] Crummey, A.W. (2018). New figures show little progress on Sask.'s sky-high Indigenous incarceration rate. Regina Leader Post, Saskatchewan. Retrieved from: