Indigenous leaders call for action following ‘heartbreaking’ auditor general report

First Nations chiefs are calling on the federal government to fix a “broken” approach to collecting data on Indigenous communities, following a scathing audit report.

On Tuesday, Auditor General Michael Ferguson released a spring audit outlining how the government has failed to track whether it’s closing socioeconomic gaps and improving life for First Nations in Canada.

Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, called the report’s findings “unacceptable.”

“We need to fix this broken approach, now,” he said in a press release Wednesday. “First Nations know what’s needed, what’s working and what isn’t, better than anyone because they are working directly with our people. This report reinforces our goals of First Nations control of First Nations education and the need for a distinct First Nations labour market strategy directed by First Nations.”

The audit states Indigenous Services Canada failed to collect adequate data on the well-being of First Nations living on reserve, including high school dropout rates.

According to the report, auditors found the number of First Nations students who graduated high school in four years was half of what the federal department reported.

The audit also determined that Employment and Social Development Canada did not track whether jobs training programs were actually helping Indigenous people find and maintain employment.

Ferguson called it an “incomprehensible failure” on the government’s part.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Sheila North said she isn’t surprised by the report’s findings, but Ferguson’s comments on education and employment “are the most heartbreaking to hear.”

“Canada has made so many promises about walking the road of reconciliation, and giving First Nation youth and young people a better future,” said North, who’s running against Bellegarde for National Chief in July. “The Auditor General’s report calls into question Canada’s actual commitment to those promises.”

Arlen Dumas, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said the reports “confirm what we hear regularly from our First Nations leaders.”

“Communities are required to spend so much of their time completing reports for the Government of Canada,” he said. “It’s a shame that although they keep up with their reports, the government is failing to share the findings from the data that has been gathered on important topics such as access to education, graduation levels, health and well-being and employment services for First Nations people.”

Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott said the government is already working with First Nations to better use data and track progress on closing socioeconomic gaps.

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