Canadians Want Change On Aboriginal Policy, Poll Suggests

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An exclusive Nanos Research poll conducted for CBC News indicates more than half of Canadians feel there's an urgent need to change federal government policy toward aboriginal Canadians. The poll comes as the Idle No More movement has made headlines in Canada and around the world. (CP)
An exclusive Nanos Research poll conducted for CBC News indicates more than half of Canadians feel there's an urgent need to change federal government policy toward aboriginal Canadians. The poll comes as the Idle No More movement has made headlines in Canada and around the world. (CP)

An exclusive Nanos Research poll conducted for CBC News indicates more than half of Canadians feel there's an urgent need to change federal government policy toward aboriginal Canadians.

More than half of those who responded to the poll describe the need for change in federal policy toward First Nations, Inuit and Métis people as urgent or somewhat urgent: 22.4 per cent see this as an urgent matter, and 34 per cent say it's somewhat urgent, for a total of 56.4 per cent.

Another 28.6 per cent described it less important, with 14.2 per cent saying it's somewhat not urgent and 14.4 per cent saying it's not urgent. Fifteen per cent said they were unsure.

The Nanos poll provided a series of options and asked respondents to say whether they felt each option would advance or not advance the cause of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in Canada.

The majority of respondents — 62.3 per cent — said blockades of railways or roads would not advance the cause, with 14.8 per cent saying they would. Another 22.9 per cent said they weren't sure.

Almost half of respondents said a meeting of aboriginal leaders with the prime minister would advance their cause, coming in at 47.4 per cent. Another 22.9 per cent said a meeting wouldn't help, while 29.7 per cent said they were unsure.

Fewer people said they thought a meeting with the Governor General would advance the cause.

Response to a meeting with the Governor General was split: 39 per cent of respondents said they thought it would help, 31.1 per cent said it would not advance the cause of aboriginal Canadians and 29.9 per cent said they weren't sure.

A meeting with Gov. Gen. David Johnston was one of the demands Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence made during her protest. First Nations people have a traditional relationship with the Crown going back to when the first treaties were signed.

A summit on the future of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in Canada was more popular. Almost half — 48.8 per cent — of those who answered the poll said a summit would advance the cause of aboriginal people, with 19.9 per cent saying it would not, and 31.3 per cent saying they were unsure.

Need clear requirements to succeed

The poll also showed confusion among Canadians over who represents which concerns.

Just under half — 45 per cent — of respondents said a meeting between Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo and Prime Minister Stephen Harper would help advance the cause of "First Nations, Inuit and Métis people." The AFN represents First Nations people from 630 communities in Canada. Inuit and Métis have their own organizations.

Another 31.1 per cent said they were unsure whether a meeting with Atleo and Harper would advance the cause of aboriginal people, while 23.9 per cent said it would not.

Nik Nanos, head of Nanos Research, says the more sensational options were the ones Canadians were least likely to support.

"The one thing that the Canadians would like to see and did think could advance the cause of First Nations and aboriginal peoples related to having a summit discussion and also having a meeting — meetings between the prime minister and key First Nations leaders," Nanos said.

Nanos says it's important to have clear goals in order to get progress on issues.

"I think for this to move forward, First Nations and aboriginal Canadians have to articulate clear requirements or a clear ask in order to continue the dialogue," he said.

"Leaders have to define specifically what they want in order to promote a public debate on the future of the relationship between First Nations people and Canada."

The poll indicates there isn't overwhelming sympathy for the cause, although there was high awareness.

Nearly half of respondents said aboriginal people have been treated fairly or somewhat fairly by the federal government, with 23.4 per cent choosing fairly and 24.7 per cent choosing somewhat fairly, for a total of 48.1 per cent.

The number of respondents who felt aboriginal people have been treated somewhat unfairly or unfairly came in at 38.9 per cent, with 21.6 saying somewhat unfairly and 17.3 per cent choosing unfairly. Thirteen per cent of respondents said they were unsure.

"The narrative that some are advancing related to injustices of the past [doesn't] necessarily resonate with all Canadians," Nanos said.

The majority of people who answered the poll — 64.2 per cent — said they had heard of the so-called grassroots movement Idle No more.

The poll surveyed 1,000 Canadians aged 18 and over on Jan. 18 and 19, 2013. There is no margin of error calculated for an online poll.

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