SURREY — A report released Tuesday suggests Surrey needs more services for its growing and young Indigenous population.
The “First Peoples 2018 Vital Signs” report was released by SurreyCares Community Foundation.
“This report aims to help residents of Surrey to better understand the living experience of our Aboriginal neighbours.”
The report – which includes data from a survey of 146 individuals conducted between March 28 and June 16, 2017 – highlights what’s needed to address the concerns expressed by “First Peoples,” defined as anyone who identifies as First Nations, Inuit or Métis.
It suggests negative stereotypes make it difficult for First Peoples to find adequate health care, education, employment and housing.
Twenty-eight per cent of those surveyed said they are subject to discrimination often and 67 per cent said they are occasionally.
The city’s Indigenous population has grown about 20 per cent since 2011, the report notes.
In 2011, Surrey had the second highest number of people identified as Aboriginal in Metro Vancouver (10,955), accounting for 21 per cent of the region’s Aboriginal population. Vancouver, meantime, was home to 23 per cent of the region’s Aboriginal population.
The 2016 Census counted 13,460 Indigenous people living in Surrey, which is about 2.6 per cent of the population. Surrey’s Aboriginal population is relatively young, according to the report, with a median age of 25.6 years. That’s 13 years less than the median age of 38.5 for Surrey residents overall.
The Vital Signs report also highlights the need for culturally sensitive medical services in Surrey, adding that First Peoples view health and wellness in a “holistic” way.
“Culturally sensitive health care also matters due to the legacy of colonialism and the residential school system,” the report notes. “First Peoples who took our survey noted that health care providers need to understand the lasting effects of these traumas.”
Surrey is only home to one primary care site that services First Peoples in Surrey (Kla-how-eya Healing Place), which is staffed by two nurse practitioners. Then there is the Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre Association, located in Whalley, which provides many culturally appropriate services including programs for youth, elders, families and a daycare. The report notes it is a “significant source” for those in Surrey.
The report says while provincial agencies and community groups attempt to fill service gaps with Aboriginal services, it’s not enough. A report commissioned by the City of Surrey in 2016 found that Vancouver had roughly 28 service groups to Surrey’s four, which had populations of similar size.
Although the Canadian average for people without a regular doctor is 15 per cent, and the Surrey average is 19 per cent, that jumps to 72 per cent for the people included in the Vital Signs survey.
Meantime, most of those surveyed (72 per cent) said they have never been in foster care. But the Vital Signs report notes Aboriginal children are “grossly” over-represented in the B.C. child welfare system: While they only make up eight per cent of the total child population in the province, they account for 60 per cent of children in care.
The report also highlighted the 2017 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count results, noting that of the more than 600 people identified as homeless in Surrey in that survey, 137 (more than 20 per cent) were Aboriginal.
That number accounts for 18 per cent of Metro Vancouver’s Aboriginal homeless.
Twelve per cent of people in the Vital Signs survey said they have faced poverty or homelessness while living in Surrey, 68 per cent said they had never been homeless, and one-third of respondents said they were homeless more than two years ago.
One-third of people surveyed said they chose to live in Surrey for its low cost of living, and 52 per cent said they rented their home. “Finding affordable and adequate housing in Surrey is an increasing concern,” the report notes
The Vital Signs report notes students still face racism in schools. A third of those surveyed in Surrey said they were only comfortable attending school “some days” or “never.”
Fourteen per cent “disagree” or “disagree strongly” that their school is sensitive to their culture (85 per cent “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that it was), while 22 per cent said they “never” or “some of the time” feel accepted by their peers.
While Aboriginal high school graduation rates and transition into post-secondary are slowly rising in Surrey, the report says there is still room to improve. Aboriginal graduation rates in Surrey were 61 per cent in the 2016/2017 school year, up from 54 per cent the year prior.
“The trend is upward,” the report notes,” but the rate is not yet on par with B.C. Aboriginal students overall.”
Almost 90 per cent of those surveyed for the Vital Signs report said they or direct family members were in Indian residential schools.
But the report notes despite historic injustice, most people surveyed (73 per cent) said they have confidence in their local police force.
While there are Indigenous justice programs available in Surrey, many of the people surveyed (67 per cent) were unaware of them: More than two-thirds indicated a need for greater access to culturally sensitive services.
“Aboriginal people continue to experience prejudice and racism,” the report notes. “Long-standing injustice has caused discrimination and suffering for First Peoples. For a long time, they have been over-represented in the criminal justice system, as both victims and offenders. It’s no surprise that First People often lack trust in the justice system.”