SURREY — A recent study suggests although Surrey’s Aboriginal population is larger than Vancouver’s, it is massively under-serviced in comparison.
The study, commissioned by the city as step one in creating its first-ever Aboriginal strategy, reveals Vancouver has roughly 28 service group to Surrey’s four.
“That’s a big discrepancy,” said the report’s author Sheldon Tetreault . “There’s a lack of culturally appropriate services in Surrey and it’s very needed.”
The All Our Relations report states that there were roughly 11,000 people in Surrey who identified as Aboriginal in 2011, which was about the same as Vancouver at the time.
But it’s estimated there are now 19,000 Aboriginal people in Surrey, while Vancouver is believed to have about 12,000.
“One of the big findings is that there’s more Aboriginal people in Surrey than anywhere else in the Lower Mainland,” said Tetreault. “But more than that is how quickly the population is growing. It’s growing at 7.7 per cent every year. While, by comparison, the Aboriginal population in Vancouver is not growing at all. It’s less than one per cent.”
It’s estimated that in 15 years, Surrey will be home to as many as 48,000 Aboriginal residents.
“The thing is, Surrey doesn’t really garner the kind of attention that other communities get for example… in terms of funding and services,” he explained.
Also surprising, said Tetreault, is how young Surrey’s Aboriginal population is.
“Half the population is under the age of 26 years,” he revealed. “The median age in Metro Vancouver is over 40. And the number of children and youth is really high as well, over 4,0000 (Aboriginal) children and youth in Surrey, where as Vancouver has only 2,600.”
According to Tetreault, that warrants a “robust” investment in children and families “if you want the community to grow in a positive way.”
Also worrisome, he said, is that a lot of Aboriginal children don’t graduate high school, 60 per cent of the children in care of the Ministry of Children Family Development are Aboriginal, and that the Aboriginal community in Surrey has one of the highest child and youth poverty rates in the region.
But there were positive findings in the report as well, he noted.
“Aboriginal people in Surrey are not transient,” said Tetreault. “They come to Surrey and set down roots. And almost half of Aboriginal households will end up owning their own home.”
Tetreault commended the City of Surrey for convening an Aboriginal Leadership Committee, which includes representatives from the First Nation community, service groups, RCMP, the school district and Fraser Health. Members worked with Tetrault to complete the report.
He said Surrey is “leading the way in Canada” in how it’s responded to the Truth and Reconciliation report’s calls for action.
“This is phase one,” he noted, “and phase two is to develop strategies to address the key findings.”
Tetreault added: “There’s real work that has to be done in Surrey, but the community isn’t defined by the negative statistics.”
Surrey Councillor Vera LeFranc is chair of the city’s Aboriginal Leadership Committee and said she was concerned at the “amount of racism some of the focus groups and interviewees talked about.”
She said “that’s something that really needs to be worked on.”
And with only four service groups serving a large population , LeFranc said while the situation is “stark,” the city is committed to seeing the strategy through.
“We really do want everybody in Surrey to reach their full potential,” she remarked. “We can’t have everybody do so if they experience systemic racism, lack or opportunity or generational problems.”
June 21 is National Aboriginal Day in Canada.