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Employment rates among Black, Indigenous groups in N.S. fall short of goals set 10 years ago

February 22, 2024

Some progress has been made, but community leaders say inequity remains

An African Nova Scotian man is seating in front of a brick wall.
Alfred Burgesson is the CEO and founder of the Tribe Network, an entrepreneurial and investment hub for Black Nova Scotians. (Galen MacNamara / CBC)

NationTalk: Black and Indigenous Nova Scotians still face lower employment rates compared to the rest of the population  —  10 years after a sweeping report on the province’s economy recommended change.

A decade ago, the Ivany Commission made 19 recommendations to improve the economic future of Nova Scotia including levelling employment rates among racialized groups to the provincial average. Today, while some progress has been made, that goal remains unmet. 

The Ivany report, titled Now or Never, said: “Opening up our workplaces to greater participation by minority and disadvantaged people, and building job skills and entrepreneurship among these groups,” are critical objectives for the economic growth of the province. 

The report used figures from the 2006 census which found an employment rate of 62 per cent among African Nova Scotians and 53 per cent for First Nations people, compared to 68 per cent for the total Nova Scotia population. The employment rate is the percentage of the working-age population with jobs.

Yellow document reads "now or never: an urgent call to Nova Scotians"
The 2014 report titled Now Or Never set ambitious targets for Nova Scotians, including increasing immigration and business startups, doubling tourism revenues and increasing exports. (CBC)

In 2021, the most recent year available, the age-adjusted employment rate for First Nations (42.8 per cent) and African Nova Scotians (46.1 per cent) fell behind the provincial figure of 51.9 per cent, according to, a website run by the province to monitor progress on the Ivany recommendations. 

“This is not just Nova Scotia. Hiring practices of Black and Indigenous folks has been an issue across the board,” said Alfred Burgesson, CEO and founder of the Tribe Network, an entrepreneurial and investment hub for Black Nova Scotians. “The government has a role to play in ensuring that Black folks, Indigenous folks have pathways to employment in government.”

Burgesson said this issue is not only the responsibility of government, but that the private sector should be contributing to a solution as well.

“When we’re attracting companies to this region, how are we holding them to the standard of the goals? So if we know that we’re trying to increase African, Nova Scotia and Indigenous employment and we’re attracting companies to our region, we should be having benchmarks or milestones for them to reach when it comes to reaching those communities and hiring those people,” he said. 

Penny McCormick, a spokesperson for the departments of Labour and Advanced Education, said the province recognizes it needs to do more to meet the employment goals.

To that end, its employment services system, Nova Scotia Works, dealt with more than 8,700 new job seekers in 2023.  Of the total, 2,090 identified as being Indigenous and 1,873 identified as being African Nova Scotians, she said in an email.

That program also subsidizes wages for students and graduates, increasing the subsidy by 10 per cent for Indigenous and African Nova Scotian students.

The Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency also funds the Africadian Empowerment Academy which helps African Nova Scotian apprentices make their way through the apprenticeship system, she said, and gives incentives to employers to hire apprentices from designated groups.

Looking at history

Burgesson said the expropriation of historical Black communities like Africville is an example of discrimination that held people back from a higher standard of living which could be passed to the next generation.

The historic community of Africville is pictured, nearby a local dumping site.
Halifax city dump with Seaview African United Baptist Church and Africville houses in the background shown in a file photo. Residents of Africville were forced to move out of the area in the late 1960s and their homes demolished. (Nova Scotia Archives/Bob Brooks)

“You had a community of 500 plus people on some of the best property in Nova Scotia and those people were moved into public housing and those people were not able to benefit from the value of that land till this day,” he said.

“It’s an example of why we need to invest more in Black communities, in Indigenous communities and ensure that they can be sustainable and that they can create, you know, wealth. They can create wealth and value for themselves,” said Burgesson.

But for the First Nations communities in the province, employment rates remain a significant hurdle despite examples of robust economic prosperity like Membertou First Nation, near Sydney in Cape Breton. 

The Membertou Trade and Convention center is pictured, a modern building in Membertou First Nation, outside of Sydney, Nova Scotia.
Membertou First Nation, outside of Sydney, N.S., has experienced an economic boom in recent decades. (Membertou Trade and Convention Centre)

“When you look at some of these Indigenous communities like Membertou, they’re creating wealth, they’re creating value on their land, right? And so how can we learn from that and look at African Nova Scotian communities and build that same infrastructure that’s going to create jobs, that’s going to create businesses, that’s going to create opportunity,” he said.

Chief Sidney Peters is from the Glooscap First Nation near Hantsport, N.S. He said the province is partly responsible for low Indigenous employment rates in his area. 

“How did it fail? Part of it has to deal with the province, [government] has to make that commitment in regards to moving forward in partnerships.… We need the province to come to the table to work with us,” said Peters.

Peters said investing in Indigenous communities is a form of economic reconciliation. He also said that with the large and growing number of youth in his community, housing is huge social issue along with low employment rates. 

A man is seat in front of a window, speaking to an audience.
Chief Sidney Peters is a Mi’kmaq from the Glooscap First Nation near Hantsport, N.S. (Galen MacNamara / CBC)

“Our communities are getting flooded, there’s no housing, and there’s not a lot of employment outside. It’s hard to get out and to find true employment where you’re actually going to be successful in a lot of cases, off reserve,” said Peters

Burgesson said some progress is taking place. Last week the province announced $250,000 to combat anti-black racism, the money will be spent on funding local grassroots organizations. “We need to also ensure that the same way that we’re funding community initiatives around anti-racism, [we’re funding] the creation of new ventures led by Black and Indigenous folks,” said Burgesson. 

“The federal government has invested over $300 million into Black communities in the last three years,” he said, referring to Canada’s first Black-led philanthropic endowment fund to support charitable organizations serving Black communities. “I don’t know if the municipal government or the provincial government have a strategy around matching that or matching an initiative to that level of substance.”

Burgesson said raising Black and Indigenous employment rates in the province is more of an opportunity than a hurdle, and increasing economic opportunity for these communities is its own form of justice.  “If the federal government is willing to put hundreds of millions of dollars into Black communities, I would love to see the provincial government and the municipal government partner on supporting Black communities as well,” he said. 

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.

Kathleen McKenna, Reporter 

Kathleen is a reporter with CBC News Nova Scotia. She is an alumna of the University of King’s College School of Journalism, Writing & Publishing. You can reach her at