Bibby study says aboriginal teens are hopeful

A major new and unprecedented survey of teenage aboriginals across the country has found that the vast majority are dreaming big when it comes to their futures. Yet, despite their hopes and aspirations, large numbers already suspect that those dreams may not be realized.

The findings are part of a comprehensive national survey of more than 5,500 high school students carried out by Dr. Reginald Bibby, a sociology professor and researcher at the University of Lethbridge.

The survey, completed in early 2009, included a special subsample study of some 500 aboriginals attending band-run schools that was coordinated by Terri-Lynn Fox, a PhD student at the University of Calgary and a member of the Kainai community on the Blood Reserve. James Penner was the third member of the research team.

Their report, entitled, Canada's Emerging Aboriginal Millennials, looks at the values, interests, concerns, beliefs and aspirations of aboriginals, comparing them with Canadian young people more generally.

Fox says that she hopes the report, "will be a foundational document to build upon," since it reveals "ideas and aspirations, tribulations and triumphs that are integral to the health and well-being of who they are now and who they will become."

The report calls for a concerted national effort to bridge aboriginal dreams and realities.

Following are some of the highlights.

• Aboriginal youth want the same things from life as everyone else. Their top values are family life, friendship, freedom and being loved. Their top goals: getting a good education and being successful.

• The new technologies and the Internet specifically are having a revolutionary impact on aboriginals living on reserves, providing a bridge to the rest of Canada and the globe.

• Aboriginal teens are very positive about Canada: 70 per cent say Canada is important to them, well above the 43 per cent level for the country as a whole.However, they are far more likely than others to feel there are a number of problem areas that require top priority attention.

Among the issues: child abuse, suicide, violence against women, discrimination, drug abuse, AIDS and youth gangs. Such concerns about these problems lead only 45 per cent to feel they would choose to live in Canada, below the 54 per cent level for all Canadian teenagers.

• Teens who live on reserves are even more inclined than other teens to feel moral decisions lie with the individual, and are highly situational when it comes to things like sexual behaviour and family and parental arrangements. Those attending off-reserve schools and frequently removed from reserve and family ties exhibit considerable moral and lifestyle autonomy.

• Young aboriginals exhibit higher levels of supernatural belief and a greater inclination to value spirituality than teenagers as a whole. While most value aboriginal spirituality, more than 50 per cent who live on reserves continue to identify with Christianity.

• While aboriginal youth face many of the same personal concerns as other teens, for many life is particularly difficult. Money, rapid change, the lack of social support, discrimination and fear for one's safety are problems that are particularly acute. Drug use and problems with the law further lower the quality of life for a disproportionately high number.

• Despite these hurdles, young aboriginals exhibit the potential for resilience, not only in retaining positive self-images during their teens years, but in holding hopes for a better future.

They, like other Canadian young people, seem to have "a hope chip" imbedded. They have high hopes when it comes to education, careers, owning their own homes, being more financially comfortable than their parents, having good and lasting relationships, having children and being involved in their communities. All this is true whether they expect to eventually live on or off reserves.

For more on Bibby's research and his findings on Canadian teens, check out this story.