Breaking the Cycle of Inequity for Indigenous Band Employees in Canada

When comparing the compensation of Indigenous band employees with those of other federal government employees, it is evident that there is a significant disparity.
Categories: Employee Benefits
Jul 14th, 2023 | By: Buffy Mills

When comparing the compensation of Indigenous band employees with those of other federal government employees, it is evident that there is a significant disparity. Other federal government employees are paid much higher salaries and have access to more benefits than  Indigenous band employees. This disparity is deeply rooted and raises many concerns about social injustice and inequality.

First Nation band employees are federal employees and have the right to fair compensation. Band organizations are federally funded and have the same obligations as other government-funded organizations to provide fair wages, benefits, and working conditions for their employees. Band funding comes from multiple sources and is often not sufficient to cover all of the expenses required. As a result, Indigenous band employees are often asked to take on extra responsibilities with little or no increases in compensation.

Although the federal government has a fiduciary obligation to ensure that Indigenous band employees receive fair compensation, there is a lack of enforcement on this responsibility. Despite being employed by government bodies funded to deliver programs and services for their communities, Indigenous employees receive significantly lower salaries and benefits compared to other government and public service employees. The underlying reason for this discrepancy may be attributed to several factors, including institutional discrimination, systemic racism, and historical marginalization experienced by Indigenous people.

The fact that band employees are generally paid less is unjustifiable, particularly since these employees play an essential role in developing their communities. They work tirelessly to provide critical services to their people, including services such as schools, healthcare, and social services. Yet, they are still disproportionately compensated and do not receive the same benefits and opportunities as other government employees.

Average Wages and Pension Income

The average wages reported in 2019 for federal employees is around $89,000 a year while the average wages reported for Indigenous band employees are estimated at a considerably lower rate of approximately $50,000 per year. The pay gap is even more significant when we consider the base compensation received by federally elected officials is estimated to be $172,000 per year and could be more depending on the role held in parliament. In a 2019 report by the Assembly of First Nations, the average salary for a Chief in Canada was $63,337, while the average salary for a Councillor was $34,903. It should be noted that these figures may have changed in the years following the report and can vary depending on the community and region.

This disparity becomes even more problematic with pension income in retirement. Pensions are an essential part of a retirement plan and can be used to provide financial security for the elderly. However, Indigenous band employees have significantly lower pension incomes compared to other federal employees. Canadian federal employees receive an average of $44,000 in annual pension income while band employees only receive approximately $25,000 annually. Similarly, Canadian federally elected officials make on average $87,000 in pension income per year while Chief and council make an average $37,000 and $22,500 respectively in annual pension income. This inequality has a direct impact on the economic well-being of Indigenous people in Canada and their ability to secure a safe and comfortable retirement, which all citizens of Canada should be able to enjoy.

The issue of compensation disparity is not just morally unjustifiable, but by paying band employees lower salaries, the community is held back from developing economically and restricts the delivery of essential government services. This is a clear example of the systemic racism that exists in our society which deprives Indigenous people of opportunities to participate fully in the economy.

Addressing the Inequity and Pursuing Fairness

Several Canadian organizations and entities are working to address this issue. For instance, the Assembly of First Nations is continually advocating for the improvement of employment conditions for band employees. Additionally, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called for equity in compensation and benefits and for Indigenous people to be fully represented in government policymaking.

Addressing the compensation disparity issue among band employees is a critical step toward achieving social justice and equality. This issue highlights the need for structural changes that acknowledge and address systemic racism and institutional discrimination in Canada. Ultimately, policies and practices must be developed to ensure that band employees receive fair and equitable compensation and do not continue to be disproportionately compensated in relation to their non-Indigenous counterparts.

Only through such actions can we begin to break the cycle of inequity and pursue fairness for Indigenous band employees in Canada. By taking action now, not only will this benefit Indigenous peoples, but it will also help restore faith in our public institutions and create a more inclusive society for all Canadians.

Buffy Mills is a First Nations Benefits and Pension Consultant at Acera Insurance (formerly CapriCMW) based in Westbank, BC.  

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