Call to Action # 66: Background Content

From Discrimination to Meaningful Work

June 14, 2022

From Discrimination to Meaningful Work: A Look into the Status of Urban Indigenous Youth Employment

The findings in this report are targeted for employers to better understand how to meet the needs of Indigenous employees and how to maintain good relationships with Indigenous communities and their Indigenous employees We believe that up-to-date and ethical research led by Indigenous peoples is important to know how things are going and where to go next . There is very little research that exists for and by Indigenous youth, especially urban Indigenous youth . Indigenous youth that live and work in urban areas deserve to be heard and we hope that this report helps to amplify their voices .

Assembly of Seven Generations (A7G) and National Association of Indian Friendship Centres

For many Indigenous peoples, employment has been a struggle . Over the decades, we’ve seen a higher than average rate of unemployment for Indigenous peoples compared to the non-Indigenous population in Canada

The Roadmap on the Implementation of TRC 66 which written in 2018 identified in the Chart of Community Challenges Identified by Survey Respondents shows major concerns from Indigenous youth that prevent them from living well . It is important to note that for many youth, coping with traumas stemming from colonization is a full-time job . It must be acknowledged that Indigenous youth face so many additional barriers to make it to a job interview or to keep a job .

  • Drugs and Alcohol 
  • Lateral Violence/Internal Issues 
  • Suicide
  • Lack of Housing 
  • Employment
  • Environmental Issues 
  • Racism
  • Education
  • Lack of Recognition 
  • Lack of Programs/Activities 
  • Intergenerational Trauma 
  • Mental Health 
  • Food Security Loss of Identity 
  • Colonialism Violence/Sexual Abuse 
  • Loss of Culture/Land 
  • Poverty


In order to identify barriers to employment that urban Indigenous youth experience, we asked participants, “What has been the hardest part for you at finding employment?” in a checkbox format . We provided several examples, like “Can’t find meaningful employment” or “Discrimination by employers,” which respondents could select if relevant but also allowed respondents to fill out an “other” box with their own experiences . Respondents could select all, none, or some of the checkbox answer choices .

Of the 355 urban-identified participants, the top two selected answer choices were:

  • “Can’t find meaningful employment” at 48% and
  • “No or not enough experience” at 36% .
  • About a quarter of participants identified “Lack of safe, accessible, and/or frequent transportation,”
  • Other responses:
    • “Discrimination by employers,”
    • “Lack of neurodivergent accessibility accommodations,”
    • “Don’t do well in interviews,”
    • “Lack of motivation,”
    • “Not enough work clothes”
    • Fourteen percent of respondents selected “Not enough support creating a resume .”


In the “other” answers provided by urban-identified participants, being a student was the most identified challenge to finding employment . Students felt they couldn’t find work with flexible hours necessary to accommodate their academic schedules and personal responsibilities, such as raising their children . Further, when such flexible positions were found, pay was often not adequate and/or not enough hours were available to support themselves and their families .

These challenges to employment while being a student lead into another difficulty frequently discussed in the “other” answers: lack of education required for positions . How can potential employees be expected to achieve certain levels of education when that education itself makes it difficult to retain employment and receive adequate pay? Sometimes, this lack of access to education also lent itself to additional challenges like language barriers . Depending on the jurisdiction, some jobs may have a “bilingual” requirement (bilingual in English and French specifically, rarely Indigenous languages) orrequire fluency in either English or French .


  • Understanding barrriers
  • Aligning values: i.e family and culture
  • Supporting Mental and Physical Health and Disabilities
  • Ensuring Healthy Workplace Environments
  • Bias Against Youth


  • Tokenizing Indigenous Employees is a Form of Racism
  • Mandatory Training and Harassment/Racism Policies
  • Pay Youth a Living Wage
  • Be Flexible
  • More Funding for Indigenous Businesses and Organizations


Indigenous youth want work that does not go against their beliefs or that is unsafe for them . Half of the youth we spoke to said that they want meaningful employment. Indigenous youth do not want to live in fear of who they are and they want to make a living while also being able to maintain and reclaim their Indigenous cultures for the next generations. This is not a big ask, these are basic human rights .

Article 21 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states:

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right, without discrimination, to the improvement of their economic and social conditions, including, inter alia, in the areas of education, employment, vocational training and retraining, housing, sanitation, health, and social security.
  2. States shall take effective measures and, where appropriate, special measures to ensure continuing improvement of their economic and social conditions. Particular attention shall be paid to the rightsand special needs of indigenous elders, women, youth, children, and persons with disabilities.

All employers must know that It is a violation of human rights to deny Indigenous youth the right to work.Employers hold the power in all situations and therefore must use their power to adapt so that Indigenous youth today are not further displaced or harmed by colonial policies that have taken away so much of Indigenous peoples livelihoods.

Assembly of Seven Generations (A7G) is an Indigenous-owned and youth- led, non-profit organization focused on cultural support and empowerment programs/policies for Indigenous youth while being influenced by traditional knowledge and Elder guidance.

The NAFC represents over 100 Friendship Centres and Provincial/Territorial Associations (PTAs) from coast-to-coast-to-coast and make up the Friendship Centre Movement (FCM)

For full details click on the following link:

Other Background Content By Theme

Ceremony and Transitions: Culture-Based Approaches

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Youth Reconciliation Barometer 2019

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2019 Indigenous Economic Progress Report: Youth

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We Matter: 2018 #HopeForum:

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