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Feeling left out by Canada’s census, local Indigenous groups did their own More Feeling that the national census carried out by Statistics Canada has failed to fully capture key information about their community, a group of Indigenous researchers have set upon finding what they say is a better way to gather the data that shapes government decisions and services.

The project is called Our Health Counts , and it uses different methods to gather census information covering everything from poverty, to unemployment, to health care of Indigenous people living in urban centres.

Gertie-Mai Muise is CEO of the Indigenous Primary Healthcare Council. She was also was director of the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre when Our Health Counts got started.

She says many Indigenous people and the people who provide health care in their communities have long felt that traditional census methods were lacking.

"We’ve always known that Statistics Canada was actually undercounting us and that we needed different information in order to serve our population better and highlight problems that are unique to the Indigenous population."

Rather than have respondents fill out a mandatory census form, Our Health Counts uses different methods, some Muise says are better geared to the uniqueness of Canada’s Indigenous population living in urban centres.

Their researchers use "respondent-driven sampling" a chain-referral technique in which a group of selected respondents called "seeds" are identified and asked to poll others in their social network to participate.

Dr. Janet Smylie worked as a lead researcher on the project, which started about 10 years ago when she was working as a family doctor in Ottawa. Her clients included Inuit patients who told her that the census reported there were 400 Inuit living in Canada’s capital.

"They were actually providing services for several thousand," said Smylie.

She says there are a host of reasons traditional census methods often undercount Indigenous populations in urban areas. She said a typical census relies on house counts that start by identifying residences then working to make contact with those living there. These fail to capture a hard-to-reach segment of the population that tends to be more transient, more affected by poverty and also more inclined to distrust a government employee knocking on the door or calling to gather information.

"Indigenous people have lots of reasons why they may opt out of participating," she said. "Lists of Indigenous people were used to make sure that children weren’t hidden when they were forced to go to residential schools."

Smylie said using existing social networks can penetrate these barriers.

"Instead of it being an outside group — the federal government of Canada — which we have a complex relationship with, all of a sudden it’s an Indigenous community organization. So that way it becomes a ‘within’ community event that can overcome quite a lot of the lack of trust."

Key findings for London

Key findings for London in the Our Health Counts census: There are between 17,000 and 22,000 Indigenous adults in London. This is three to four times more than the Statistics Canada estimate.

90 per cent of Indigenous adults in London fall below the before-tax Low-Income Cut-Off (LICO). 58 per cent of Indigenous adults say their overall health and wellbeing had been affected by financial hardship in the past 12 months. 56 per cent of Indigenous adults in London were unemployed compared to seven per cent of adults (15 years or older) in Ontario. Almost one in four employed Indigenous adults lived at or below the before-tax Low-Income cut-off. Only five per cent of Indigenous adults in London who were stably housed owned their dwelling. Smylie says the challenge now is […]

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