In Calgary, 49% of the total Aboriginal population is under the age of 24 years (Statistics Canada 1996). Of this group, 61% experience poverty as defined by the federal low-income cut-off. The Conference Board of Canada predicts that the Aboriginal population across Canada will increase 52% by the year 2016. Aboriginal youth will require unique social and community development opportunities to ensure their participation in all spheres of daily living in Calgary.
Despite a wide range of services for Aboriginal youth in Calgary, their needs continue to grow. Local solutions, which actively involve Aboriginal youth and their respective communities, have the best chance for success. Aboriginal youth have to be prepared for the challenges they will face as future leaders. In order to become self-reliant, contributing and successful members of Calgary's urban community, they require a safe environment where they can contribute to the services and initiatives which affect the individual, family and community.
While there are many reports on the issues facing Aboriginal youth, the body of this report will for the most part, echo the experiences and words of the young people who gave us their time. Throughout the months of November and December 2000, one hundred Aboriginal youth living in Calgary took part in the study. The range of youth we spoke to was vast. This was an important part of the design, as we wanted to ensure that the report reflected not only the word of homeless youth, or conversely youth in school but instead a cross section of the many different circumstances that Aboriginal youth face.
As a way of addressing this diversity, we choose to analyze the material to determine recurring themes and patterns, which consistently appeared across the spectrum. By narrowing the focus we were hoping to encourage opportunities to address some of the issues with concrete action. Other sources such as the Royal Commission Report on Aboriginal Peoples, Sacred Lives - A National Aboriginal Consultation Project, as well as other significant reports are used as supporting documents. The final source is the findings from the Your Choice, Your Voice - Ministry of Children's Services Aboriginal Youth Forum. The Forum findings present a more global, province wide representation of issues and recommendations.
In Calgary, there are between fifty and sixty Aboriginal service agencies. We are indebted to those agencies and staff who assisted us in gathering the information for this report. As a result we were able to capture the experiences of Aboriginal youth in the justice system, living on the streets, in group homes, in addictions programs, searching for employment as well as in school.
Aboriginal youth that participated in the research were between the ages of 12 and 20. Fifty-two percent (52 %) were between the ages of 13 and 15. Thirty-five percent (35%) were between the ages of 16 and 18 and thirteen percent (13 %) were ages 19 to 20. Forty-nine percent (49 %) were female and fifty-one percent (51 %) were male. Sixty-nine percent (69 %) identified as First Nations and thirty-one percent (31 %) identified as Métis.
Two individuals, both of Aboriginal origin, conducted all the research. The primary facilitator was a youth while the other member of the team recorded the discussions. In order to accommodate the different preferences and life circumstance of the youth surveyed, two methods of collecting information were employed. In either case the questions remained the same to ensure consistency and reliability.
Focus groups were held with groups across Calgary. Each session lasted one hour. Group sizes ranged from 3 to 20. Groups were not homogeneous to gender but were similar in that they were part of the same social program or were in the same school group.
A survey was also created for those youth that were not comfortable participating in large discussion groups. The survey was particularly helpful in speaking to homeless youth that wanted to express their opinions but would not attend a focus group session. In all cases, participants were remunerated for their time.