A new report shows that First Nations have made steady economic improvement over the past 40 years.

This includes reducing their dependence on government transfers, improving education levels, building their economic development capacity and increasing incomes. That’s good news which went largely unnoticed, of course, in the mainstream media.

“Whether it be in education, employment or income, the charts show (with very few exceptions) that change is going in the right direction,” states the report from the Assembly of First Nations. “Indeed, we say to those in the media, in politics or academia who consistently emphasize the negative, or who seize on particular communities or situations where things are falling apart as being representative, that they do a disservice to the First Nation leadership, its public service and others, including those in government, who have worked so hard and so creatively, in the struggle to make poverty history over the past four decades.”

The State of the First Nation Economy and the Struggle to Make Poverty History (PDF 3.6MB) is an impressive and comprehensive report, an excellent reference and resource for those working with First Nations. It was released to coincide with a trade and economic summit held this week in Toronto.

Here is a list of the report's 12 key findings:

  1. The socio?economic position of the First Nation population has improved over the past 40 years according to most indicators. In short, change is heading in the right direction.
  2. Despite improvements, First Nations haven't kept up with the improving living standards of non-Aboriginal Canadians. In some cases, the gap has been widening.
  3. The First Nation economy is especially vulnerable to recessions, which can reverse, at least temporarily, the positive changes shown in the report.
  4. Unemployment remains stubbornly high in First Nations—38 percent on reserve and 27 percent overall.
  5. The proportion of First Nations living off reserve has increased, but they have little support and often have problems retaining their indigenous culture.
  6. First Nation are still disproportionately rural. The rest of Canada is 80 percent urban, but only 45 percent of First Nations are urban.
  7. Positive change, whether in education, employment or income, has been more evident and more substantial among the off?reserve First Nation population than on reserve.
  8. The First Nation population is growing more rapidly than the Canadian population as a whole, and could be important for replacing an aging labour force in the future.
  9. First Nations economic development focuses on natural resources, but their capital-intensive nature means that they provide relatively few jobs.
  10. The number of First Nations businesses grew to 15,000 by 2006, although that's only half the per capita compared to the rest of Canada. Aboriginal businesses also can't meet the demands of the growing Aboriginal labour force.
  11. The capacity or institutional base for First Nations to participate in economic development has grown impressively with economic development officers, capital corporations and training.
  12. As a conclusion, First Nations are “hanging in for the ‘long haul,'” regrouping and making considerable progress in realizing key elements of progress after a century or more of destructive colonial policy.

Here are a few of those charts from the report showing steady improvements in education levels, employment, social welfare and income: