The Community Well-Being Index: Report on Trends in First Nations Communities, 1981-2011

Author: Strategic Research Directorate Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada
Date: April 2015
QS- Y396-000-EE-A1
Catalogue: R3-170/2-2014E-PDF
ISBN: 978-1-100-25129-5

Suggested Citation:
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. (2015). The Community Well-Being Index: Well-Being in First Nations Communities, 1981-2011. Ottawa: Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

 

Executive Summary

The Community Well-Being (CWB) index is a means of measuring socio-economic well-being in First Nations, Inuit and non-Aboriginal communities. The CWB index combines data on income, education, housing and labour force activity into well-being "scores" for most communities in Canada. These scores are used to compare well-being across First Nations and Inuit communities with the well-being of non-Aboriginal communities. CWB index scores were calculated for 1981, 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2006, based on Canada's Census of PopulationFootnote 1 . Scores for 2011 have been calculated based on the 2011 National Household SurveyFootnote 2 .

This paper examines First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities only. An analysis of Inuit communities is covered in a separate report.

Average Community Well-Being (CWB) scores for First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities increased slowly but steadily between 1981 and 2011.

The CWB gap between First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities is substantial. In 2011, the average CWB score for First Nations communities was 20 points lower than the average score for non-Aboriginal communities. This gap is the same size as it was in 1981.

During the 1990s, First Nations communities improved slightly faster than non-Aboriginal communities and the gap narrowed. Those reductions in the gap were largely undone when non-Aboriginal communities improved more than First Nations communities between 2001 and 2006.

The widening of the CWB gap that occurred between 2001 and 2006 was partially driven by a jump in non-Aboriginal communities' high school completion rates. This jump should be interpreted with caution: the education questions on the census were changed in 2006, reducing the comparability of 2006 education data with data from previous censuses.

Nevertheless, the narrowing of the gap that occurred during the 1990s did not resume after 2006. Between 2006 and 2011, First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities improved at similar rates and the CWB gap was relatively stable.

The gaps between First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities vary by CWB component, and each component has undergone different changes over time. First Nations communities' largest improvements since 1981 were in the areas of income and education.

First Nations in the Prairies have the lowest average CWB scores. Although the relative disadvantage of Prairie First Nations has increased over time, First Nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan improved more than First Nations in other regions between 2006 and 2011.

The gaps between First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities and the regional disparities in First Nations community well-being are important. As important, however, is the large amount of variability in well-being among First Nations communities. While some have very low CWB scores, others score at or above the non-Aboriginal average.


Background

"First Nations" refer to one of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada (the others being Inuit and Métis). First Nations is a general term that encompasses over 50 distinct nations and language groups across the country. As the original inhabitants of much of what is now Canada, First Nations have unique relationships with the Crown. These relationships are shaped by a variety of treaties, agreements and legislation, including the Royal Proclamation of 1763, numerous signed Treaties and the Constitution Acts of 1867 and 1982, (AFN 2014).

Just over 900,000 First Nations individuals were recorded in the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), including 697,510 Registered Indians and 213,900 non-Status Indians. About 45% of Registered Indians live in First Nations communities which are located in all provinces and territories except for Nunavut.

Along with other Aboriginal groups, First Nations lag behind non-Aboriginal Canadians on many socio-economic indicators, including education, income and employment (AANDC 2010).

In 1999, in an effort to augment and contextualize anecdotal information and qualitative research, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) began to develop systematic quantitative measures of well-being for First Nations and Inuit peoples. The first such measure was the Registered Indian Human Development Index (Registered Indian HDI), modelled after the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI defines well-being in terms of educational attainment, income and life expectancy. It has been used since 1990 to measure well-being in some 170 countries. Analyses of the Registered Indian HDI from 1981 to 2001 revealed that the well-being of Registered Indians had been increasing but remained lower than that of other Canadians (Cooke and Beavon, 2007). Anecdotal evidence, however, suggested that well-being varied greatly across Aboriginal communities and that the Registered Indian HDI, therefore, might provide an incomplete picture of well-being. The Community Well-Being (CWB) index was thus developed as a community-level complement to the national- and regional-level HDI for First Nations and Inuit communities in Canada.

The CWB index was developed to look at socio-economic well-being at the community level. Since community-level life expectancy estimates would be either unreliable or unavailable due to the small population size of communities, the index had to be modified from the original HDI. In addition, housing and labour force activity were identified as areas of concern in First Nations and Inuit communities and were thus introduced into the indexFootnote 3.


Methodology

Defining the CWB Index

A community's CWB index score is a single number that can range from a low of zero to a high of 100. It is composed of data on income, education, housing conditions and labour force activity. These components are described below. Complete details on the CWB methodology are provided in The Community Well-Being (CWB) Index: Methodological Details.

1) Income

The income component of the CWB index is defined in terms of total income per capita, in accordance with the following formula:

The formula maps each community's income per capita onto a theoretical range of income per capita. Doing so allows income per capita to be expressed as a percentage, which is the metric in which the other components of the index are naturally expressed. A range of $2,000 to $40,000 dollars was selected when the index was first calculated. This range was selected because it coincides with the approximate lowest and highest incomes per capita found in Canadian communities in 2001, which was the most recent year of data available at the time. In the few cases where a community's income per capita fell outside of this range, it was recoded to either $2,000 or $40,000. This range is evaluated each CWB cycle to ascertain its continued appropriateness.

Note that the formula converts dollars of income per capita into logarithms. This is done to account for the "diminishing marginal utility of income."  According to this principle, those who occupy lower income strata will benefit more from additional income than those at higher income levels (Cooke, 2007, p.29).

2) Education

The education component is composed of the following two variables:

  1. "High school plus": the proportion of a community's population, 20 years and over, that has obtained at least a high school certificate. For simplicity's sake, this proportion is often referred to in this document as "high school completion rate," even though it includes individuals who did not obtain a high school certificate, but did acquire a credential beyond the high school level.
  2. "University": the proportion of a community's population, 25 years and over, that has obtained a university degree at the bachelor's level or higher.

The high school plus variable accounts for two-thirds of the education component, while the university variable accounts for one third.

3) Housing

The housing component comprises equally-weighted indicators of housing quantity and quality:

  1. "Housing quantity": the proportion of the population living in a dwelling that contains no more than one person per room.
  2. "Housing quality": the proportion of the population living in a dwelling that is not in need of major repairs.

4) Labour Force Activity

The labour force activity component comprises the following equally-weighted variables:

  1. "Labour force participation": the proportion of the population, aged 20-65, that was involved in the labour force during the week preceding census day - i.e. Census reference week.
  2. "Employment": the percentage of labour force participants, aged 20-65, that was employed during Census reference week.

Availability of Data

CWB scores have been calculated for 1981, 1991, 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2011. Scores for 1986 were not calculated because information on dwelling conditions was not collected in the 1986 Census. CWB scores calculated from the censuses of 1981, 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2006 are available for every community in Canada with a population of at least 65, that was not an incompletely enumerated reserveFootnote 4, and whose global non-response rateFootnote 5 was less than 25%Footnote 6. In addition, CWB component scores (i.e., income, education, housing and labour force activity scores) are available for communities containing at least 40 households and 250 individuals.

Data availability rules for the NHS-based CWB scores of 2011 are somewhat different. CWB scores are available for every community in Canada with a weighted population of at least 65 persons and at least 10 respondents. CWB component scores are available for communities with a weighted population of at least 250, provided the total number of individuals with income, as well as the sum of the two numerators in each of the education, labour force and housing components, was at least four unweighted and at least ten weighted.

Following the release criteria established by Statistics Canada, AANDC does not publish 2011 CWB scores for communities with a global non-response rate of 50% or higher, though these scores are included in aggregate calculations. CWB scores for these communities are available upon request (provided all other release criteria have been met), but they should be interpreted with caution.

Defining Communities

Communities are defined in terms of census subdivisions (CSDs). CSDs are municipalities or areas (such as Indian reserves) that are regarded as the equivalent of municipalities. For purposes of comparison, communities are categorized as First Nations communities, Inuit communities or Non-Aboriginal communities.

First Nations communities comprise those CSDs that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) and Statistics Canada classify as "on-reserve," plus a selection of other CSDs in Northern Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon Territory that are associated with a First Nation group and have a substantial First Nation population.

Inuit have completed land claims in four regions across Canada's north: Nunatsiavut, Nunavik, Nunavut and the Inuvialuit region. For purposes of the CWB, communities are classified as Inuit communities if they fall within any of these regions.

CSDs that are neither First Nations nor Inuit communities are classified as non-Aboriginal communities. It is important to note that some non-Aboriginal communities have substantial Aboriginal populationsFootnote 7. It is also worth noting that others who use the CWB index may choose to classify communities in different ways. For example, one could reclassify non-Aboriginal communities with substantial Métis populations as Métis communities.

Comparing CWB Index Scores across Time

Four issues complicate the comparison of CWB scores across time. They are outlined below.

1) Inflation

Owing to inflation, the value of a dollar tends to decrease over time. To ensure that the CWB is measuring actual changes in income rather than the effects of inflation, income data from the 1981-2001 censuses and the 2011 NHS were adjusted using the Consumer Price Index. Since 2006 is the reference year for the CWB time series, no adjustment was required to those income data.

2) Missing Data

Scores for some communities are missing from some or all of the six CWB cycles (1981, 1991, 1996, 2001, 2006, and 2011). As indicated above, scores may be missing for a community in a given year because of non-participation in the Census, inadequate data quality or insufficient population size.

3) Changes in Community Boundaries

Communities can experience "boundary changes" between censuses. They can merge with other communities, divide into two or more communities, annex parts of other communities, etc. When this happens, it can be difficult to know what caused a change in a community's CWB index score from one CWB cycle to the next. If, for example, a community's score went from 70 in 1981 to 80 in 1991, this change might be the result of different things. If the community experienced a boundary change whereby it annexed part of another community, the improved CWB score could have been the result of a "real" change in the well-being of the original community, a consequence of higher well-being in the annexed area, or a combination of both.

Analyses based on 2006 data revealed that boundary changes had little effect on national or regional average CWB scores. While these averages may be safely compared across time, boundary changes can seriously impact the comparability of individual communities across timeFootnote 8.

4) Sampling ErrorFootnote 9

The CWB Indices of 1981-2006 were based on the "long form" of the census. These censuses were distributed to all households in First Nations, Inuit, and remote communities, and to a sample of 1/5 of households in other Canadian communities. The 2011 CWB index was based on the National Household Survey. It was distributed to all households in First Nations, Inuit and remote communities and to a sample of 1/3 of households in other Canadian communities.

For a sampled community, it is possible that a fluctuation (or lack thereof) in its CWB score from one CWB cycle to the next is the result of sampling error. It is difficult to ascertain the impact of sampling error on a given community's score in a given year, though impact generally decreases as the population of a community increases. Researchers are reminded to interpret individual communities' CWB scores with caution and to emphasize general trends rather than cycle-to-cycle fluctuations.

5) Non-Sampling ErrorFootnote 10

The type of non-sampling error that is most relevant to at least the most recent iteration of the CWB is non-response error. As indicated above, CWB indices constructed prior to 2011 were based on the long form of the Census of Canada. Because the census was mandatory, response rates were very high (e.g. 94% in 2006). The overall response rate for the voluntary NHS was lower (69% unweighted, 77% weighted) and response rates varied from community to community. Importantly, the First Nations and Inuit communities included in the 2011 CWB analysis had an average response rate of 82%.

Statistics Canada (Finès & Findlay, 2014) conducted analyses to determine whether the non-response error in the NHS undermined the validity of the CWB index. They determined that the quality of the 2011 CWB did not appear to have been adversely affected, but advised caution when looking at individual communities with small populations and/or high non-response rates. AANDC conducted additional analyses that reached the same conclusion. It is nonetheless important to note that Statistics Canada's standard cautions regarding the comparability of the voluntary NHS to previous mandatory censuses are generally applicable to the CWB.

6) Changes to the Education questions

In 2006, Statistics Canada changed the census questions related to education. First, the single question that had been used to capture educational attainment was replaced with a series of questions. Statistics Canada made the change "to address suspected underreporting of high school completions" (Statistics Canada, 2008). Second, the education questions were reformulated to focus on credentials obtained at the high school level and higher. Educational attainment that did not result in a credential (such as completion of elementary school or partial completion of high school or post-secondary programs) was no longer captured. Although education is defined in the exact same way in each iteration of the CWB, it is possible that the methodological changes introduced in 2006 impacted the comparability of 2001 and 2006 education scores. Specifically, these changes may have caused an artificially large jump in the average high school completion rate for non-Aboriginal communities between 2001 and 2006. This jump did not occur in First Nations or Inuit Communities' average scores. As a result, the education gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities widened between 2001 and 2006. Although the widening of the education gap between 2001 and 2006 may have been a statistical artifact, it is notable that the narrowing of the gap that had been observed prior to 2001 did not resume after 2006.


Advantages and Limitations of the CWB Index

The CWB is a useful research tool. It has been used to examine the effect on well-being of a variety of factors including isolation, maternal health, income inequality and treaties (O'Sullivan 2012a; AANDC 2012; O'Sullivan 2012b; AANDC 2013). It is only one of many ways of measuring well-being, however, and users should be mindful of both its advantages and its limitations. The two are actually closely related.

The CWB was designed to fulfil four research objectives:

  1. to provide a systematic, reliable summary measure of socio-economic well-being for individual Canadian communities;
  2. to illustrate variations in well-being across First Nations and Inuit communities and how it compares to that of non-Aboriginal communities;
  3. to allow well-being to be tracked over time; and,
  4. to be compatible with other community-level data to facilitate a wide variety of research on the factors associated with well-being.

CWB developers quickly ascertained that the Census of Population was the only data source capable of fulfilling these research needs. However, using the Census and it successor, the NHS, also imposes some limitations on the CWB index.

First, the available indicators of well-being pertain mainly to socioeconomic well-being. Other equally important aspects of well-being are not addressed. Numerous attempts to quantify well-being have been made, and many composite indicators like the CWB have been developed. Although none of these measures can fulfill the research needs for which the CWB was designed, they highlight the variety of factors that may be regarded as constituting well-being. Physical and emotional health, cultural continuity and environmental conservation are three commonly employed indicators of well-being that are excluded from the CWB indexFootnote 11.

Second, the indicators used in the CWB may not fully capture the economic realities of some First Nations and Inuit communities. For example, many are still heavily involved in traditional economic pursuits. Such pursuits, despite contributing to material well-being, may not be reflected in the monetary income or paid employment captured by the CWB index.


Results

National Trends, 1981-2011

CWB Index Scores

Average Community Well-Being (CWB) scores for First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities increased slowly but steadily between 1981 and 2011 (Figure 1).

The CWB gap between First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities is substantial. In 2011, the average CWB score for First Nations communities was 20 points lower than the average score for non-Aboriginal communities. This gap is the same size as it was in 1981.

During the 1990s, First Nations communities improved slightly faster than non-Aboriginal communities and the gap narrowed. Those reductions in the gap were largely undone when non-Aboriginal communities improved more than First Nations communities between 2001 and 2006.

The widening of the CWB gap that occurred between 2001 and 2006 was partially driven by a jump in non-Aboriginal communities' high school completion rates. This jump should be interpreted with caution: the education questions on the census were changed in 2006, reducing the comparability of 2006 education data with data from previous censuses.

Nevertheless, the narrowing of the gap that occurred during the 1990s did not resume after 2006. Between 2006 and 2011, First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities improved at similar rates and the CWB gap was relatively stable.

Figure 1: Average CWB Scores, First Nations and Non-Aboriginal Communities, 1981-2011

Source: Statistics Canada, Censuses of Population, 1981-2006 and National Household Survey, 2011.

In addition to changes in average CWB scores, it is important to examine changes in individual communities' scores over time. This permits us to distinguish between a scenario wherein all communities experience "slow but steady" improvement in well-being and a scenario wherein communities experience erratic periods of "boom and bust"Footnote 12. Table 1 provides the percentages of communities whose CWB scores have increased or remained stableFootnote 13 in each intercensal periodFootnote 14. It indicates that, across community types in all intercensal periods, only a minority of communities experienced decline. Table 1 also indicates that, while more First Nations than non-Aboriginal communities' scores increased or remained stable between 1991 and 1996, the opposite was true in all the other intercensal periods.

Table 1: Percentages of First Nations and Non-Aboriginal Communities whose CWB Scores Remained Stable or Increased in Each Intercensal Period

  Communities Where CWB Scores Increased or Were Stable
Period First Nations Communities Non-Aboriginal Communities
1981-1991 77% (291/379) 90% (3969/4435)
1991-1996 82% (371/452) 71% (3146/4402)
1996-2001 71% (332/468) 83% (3012/3648)
2001-2006 64% (286/448) 90% (3402/3763)
2006-2011 64% (309/483) 81% (3008/3720)

Source: Statistics Canada, Censuses of Population, 1981-2006 and National Household Survey, 2011.

The fact that most communities' scores increased during each intercensal period suggests that "slow but steady" improvement was typical of both First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities between 1981 and 2011. Figure 2 provides additional evidence. It displays the distribution of changes in communities' CWB scores between 2006 and 2011, demonstrating that very few communities fluctuated more than 10 points over that period. Similar distributions were observed for the other intercensal periods.

Figure 2: Change in Individual First Nations and Non-Aboriginal Communities’ CWB Scores, 2006-2011

Source: Statistics Canada, Censuses of Population, 2006 and National Household Survey, 2011.

The CWB Components

As noted above, the CWB is made up of four components: income, education, housing, and labour force activity. Each can range from a low of zero to a high of 100.

From largest to smallest, the component gaps between First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities were as follows in 2011: income (25 points), housing (23 points), education (17 points), and labour force activity (16 points).

Figure 3: CWB Component Scores, First Nations and Non-Aboriginal Communities, 2011

Source: Statistics Canada, National Household Survey, 2011.

Each CWB component has undergone different changes over time:

1. Income: The average income score for First Nations communities increased considerably (16 points) between 1981 and 2011. However, because the average income score for non-Aboriginal communities increased at a similar rate (15 points), the income gap was virtually unchanged.

Figure 4: Average Income Scores, First Nations and Non-Aboriginal Communities, 1981-2011

Source: Statistics Canada, Censuses of Population, 1981-2006 and National Household Survey, 2011.

2. Education: The average education score for First Nations communities also increased considerably between 1981 and 2011 (22 points). The education gap between First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities narrowed slowly until 2001 - about one point every five years. It widened between 2001 and 2006 as a result of a large jump in high school completion in non-Aboriginal communities. As mentioned above, this jump should be interpreted with caution.

The narrowing of the education gap that was observed until 2001 did not resume after 2006. In fact, between 2006 and 2011, the average education score for non-Aboriginal communities increased more than the average score for First Nations communities. The education gap widened slightly as a result.

Figure 5: Average Education Scores, First Nations and Non-Aboriginal Communities, 1981-2011

Source: Statistics Canada, Censuses of Population, 1981-2006 and National Household Survey, 2011.

Figures 6 and 7, respectively, illustrate changes in the two constituents of the education score: High School Plus and University. They demonstrate that increases in the education component were driven by increases in communities’ high school completion rates. They also illustrate the large jump in the non-Aboriginal high school completion rate that occurred from 2001 - 2006 and that may be at least partially attributable to changes to the Census questionnaire. With this jump, the high school completion gap between First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities went from a low of 13 points in 2001 to 21 points in 2006 and has been relatively stable since.

Increases in university completion were modest for both First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities. The gap between their averages was about six points wide in 2011. While small in absolute terms, the gap has been growing relatively steadily since 1981 and had almost doubled in size by 2011.

Figure 6: Average High School Plus Scores, First Nations and Non-Aboriginal Communities, 1981-2011

Source: Statistics Canada, Censuses of Population, 1981-2006 and National Household Survey, 2011.

Figure 7: Average University Scores, First Nations and Non-Aboriginal Communities, 1981-2011

Source: Statistics Canada, Censuses of Population, 1981-2006 and National Household Survey, 2011.

3. Housing: The average housing score for non-Aboriginal communities has been consistently high since 1981, reflecting generally strong housing conditions across the country. The average housing score for First Nations communities improved modestly in the 1980s and 1990s but has shown little movement since 2001. Over the thirty year period between 1981 and 2011, the housing gap between First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities narrowed by a modest five points.

Figure 8: Average Housing Scores, First Nations and Non-Aboriginal Communities, 1981-2011

Source: Statistics Canada, Censuses of Population, 1981-2006 and National Household Survey, 2011.

Figures 9 and 10, respectively, illustrate changes in the two variables that compose the housing score: Housing Quantity and Housing Quality. They demonstrate that, until 2006, the apparent stability of the average housing score for First Nations communities was the result of large increases in housing quantity coupled with large decreases in housing quality. The First Nations average housing quantity score did not change from 2006 to 2011, interrupting its 25-year upward trend. At the same time, the First Nations average housing quality score increased from 2006 to 2011, hinting at a potential reversal of its long-term decline.

Figure 9: Average Housing Quantity, First Nations and Non-Aboriginal Communities, 1981-2011

Source: Statistics Canada, Censuses of Population, 1981-2006 and National Household Survey, 2011.

Figure 10: Average Housing Quality, First Nations and Non-Aboriginal Communities, 1981-2011

Source: Statistics Canada, Censuses of Population, 1981-2006 and National Household Survey, 2011.

4. Labour Force Activity: First Nations communities’ average labour force activity score increased a few points during the 1990s and early 2000s but these gains were largely lost between 2006 and 2011. First Nations’ average labour force activity score was only one point higher in 2011 than it was in 1981 and the gap relative to non-Aboriginal communities widened slightly.

The decline in First Nations communities’ average labour force activity score between 2006 and 2011 bears consideration. It is difficult to say whether this drop is simply a random fluctuation in a stable long-term pattern, or if something occurred between 2006 and 2011 to reverse the gradual upward trend that was in place since 1991. For example, research indicates that Aboriginal people in Canada were more affected by the economic downturn in 2008 (Usalcas, 2011). This research was conducted off-reserve only, but it is reasonable to suspect that these off-reserve patterns were similar for First Nations people living on-reserve and that the decline in the First Nations average labour force activity score between 2006 and 2011 might reflect the impact of the 2008 downturn.

Figure 11: Average Labour Force Activity Scores, First Nations and Non-Aboriginal Communities, 1981-2011

Source: Statistics Canada, Censuses of Population, 1981-2006 and National Household Survey, 2011.

Figures 12 and 13, respectively, illustrate changes in the two constituents of the labour force activity score: Labour Force Participation and Employment.

Between 1981 and 1996, First Nations' average labour force participation score increased and the gap relative to non-Aboriginal communities narrowed. There was little change between 1996 and 2006. Between 2006 and 2011, First Nations' average labour force participation score declined and the gap widened. Nevertheless, the score remained 10 points higher and the gap remained narrower than they had been in 1981.

Between 1981 and 1991, the First Nations' average employment score decreased. Although it improved steadily between 1991 and 2006, it still had not returned to its 1981 level by 2011. After widening in 1991, the employment gap between First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities stabilized, fluctuating between 14 and 15 points.

Figure 12: Average Labour Force Participation Score, First Nations and Non-Aboriginal Communities, 1981-2011

Source: Statistics Canada, Censuses of Population, 1981-2006 and National Household Survey, 2011.

Figure 13: Average Employment Score, First Nations and Non-Aboriginal Communities, 1981-2011

Source: Statistics Canada, Censuses of Population, 1981-2006 and National Household Survey, 2011.

Regional Variations

First Nations’ average CWB scores vary across regions (Figure 14). First Nations communities in the Yukon have the highest average CWB score while First Nations in the Prairie Provinces have the lowest.

Figure 14: Average CWB scores by Region, First Nation, and non-Aboriginal communities, 2011

Source: Statistics Canada, National Household Survey, 2011.

Figure 15 plots the regional CWB averages of First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities between 1981 and 2011. It illustrates several key points. First, by 2011, First Nations communities in some regions had attained an average CWB score comparable to those that some non-Aboriginal communities had as recently as 1996.

Second, regional variability continues to be greater in First Nations than in other Canadian communities: the trend lines are more widely spaced, particularly in the latest periods.

Third, the relative disadvantage of First Nations in the Prairies has grown over time, particularly during the 2001 – 2006 period. During this period, First Nations' CWB averages increased in all regions except for the Prairies; First Nations' CWB averages in Saskatchewan and Manitoba actually declined. In the subsequent 2006 – 2011 period, First Nations in Saskatchewan and Alberta improved slightly more than First Nations in other regions. However, First Nations in Manitoba once again failed to improve, resulting in a continuation of the regional divergence in First Nations' CWB averages.

Figure 15: CWB Index Averages by Region, First Nations and non-Aboriginal Communities, 1981-2011

Source: Statistics Canada, Censuses of Population, 1981-2006 and National Household Survey, 2011.

Variations between individual communities

Average CWB scores provide only a partial picture of well-being in First Nations. CWB scores also vary considerably among individual First Nations communities. For example, although 98 of the 100 lowest-scoring communities are First Nations, many First Nations communities score at or above the non-Aboriginal average. Two of the 100 top-scoring communities are First Nations.

Figure 16 illustrates how First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities are distributed along the CWB spectrum. The distribution of First Nations scores is flatter than that of non-Aboriginal communities, indicating that well-being varies more among First Nations. Accordingly, the standard deviation of First Nations' CWB scores (10.4 points) is nearly double that of non-Aboriginal communities' scores (5.7 points).

Figure 16: CWB Distributions, First Nations and Non-Aboriginal Communities, 2011

Source: Statistics Canada, National Household Survey, 2011.

Figure 17 also highlights the greater variability in well-being among First Nations communities. It illustrates that, in 2011, 95% of non-Aboriginal communities scored within a CWB range of 23 points (from 66 to 89), while the same percentage of First Nations are spread over a range of 39 points (from 39 to 78).

Figure 17: Range of Community Well-Being (CWB) Score, Canada, 2011 (Excluding Outliers*)

*Outliers, defined as the 2.5% of communities with the lowest scores and the 2.5% of communities with the highest scores, are excluded. Excluding these extreme "tails" is standard practice when comparing relatively normal distributions.

Source: Statistics Canada, National Household Survey, 2011.


Summary and Conclusion

The Community Well-Being (CWB) index is a useful method of assessing socio-economic well-being at the community level. The information it provides can help inform policies and programs that are aimed at improving the well-being of Aboriginal people. The CWB index helps show where improvements in well-being have been achieved and where significant gaps still exist. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that the CWB was designed to fulfil specific research purposes and that it is not necessarily the only or best way to measure well-being in all circumstances.

Both First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities' average CWB scores increased gradually between 1981 and 2011, although the First Nations average score did not improve between 2001 and 2006. Improvement was driven by small increases in most communities' CWB index scores and not by the combined effect of large increases in some communities and large declines in others.

Despite these improvements, the CWB gap between First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities was the same size in 2011 as it was in 1981. During the 1990s, the average CWB score for First Nations communities was increasing at a faster rate than that of non-Aboriginal communities, causing the gap to narrow. The gap widened again between 2001 and 2006, however, and was stable from 2006 to 2011.

Income scores improved steadily for both First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities, with only occasional pauses in this upward trend. The gap between the two community types was not significantly narrower in 2011 than it was in 1981, however.

In both First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities, education scores improved the most between 1981 and 2011, owing primarily to increases in high school completion rates. Nevertheless, the education gap between First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities is the same size as it was thirty years ago.

The First Nations housing score increased by a modest eight points between 1981 and 2011 and the gap relative to non-Aboriginal communities narrowed five points. For First Nations communities, the apparent stability of the overall housing score until 2006 resulted from increases in housing quantity coupled with decreases in housing quality. Housing quantity has not increased further since 2006. Housing quality, instead of continuing to decline, rebounded a few points.

The average labour force activity score for First Nations communities was approximately the same in 2011 as it was in 1981, but the gap relative to non-Aboriginal communities widened slightly. Despite a recent decline, First Nations average labour force participation score has increased since 1981 and the gap relative to non-Aboriginal communities has narrowed. Following a drop between 1981 and 1991, First Nations' average employment score began increasing slowly and the gap relative to non-Aboriginal communities stabilized, but no improvement occurred in the most recent intercensal period.

First Nations average CWB scores vary by region, as do the gaps between First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities and the degree of progress between 1981 and 2011. By 2011, some regional First Nations CWB averages were on par with some non-Aboriginal regional averages observed as recently as 1996.

A marked disparity in well-being exists between First Nations in the Prairies and First Nations in other regions. Prairie First Nations had lower CWB averages than First Nations in each year measured. The disparities in well-being between First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities were also larger in the Prairies than in other regions. Prairie First Nations' disadvantage grew more pronounced between 1981 and 2006, but Saskatchewan and Alberta regained some ground during the most recent intercensal period. Manitoba First Nations' disadvantage continues to grow slowly.
Well-being scores varied considerably among individual First Nations communities – more so, in fact, than among non-Aboriginal communities. Although some First Nations had very low scores in 2011, others scored at or above the non-Aboriginal average.

Readers are cautioned against emphasizing the disparities between First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities. First Nations communities possess unique characteristics and circumstances. Consequently, one should not assume that conditions in non-Aboriginal communities represent a goal to which First Nations should aspire. Comparing these two community types is valuable primarily insofar as it aids in the interpretation of trends in well-being. For example, if well-being in First Nations improves while well-being in non-Aboriginal communities does not, the "cause" of the improvement may lie in programs, policies, conditions, etc. that are specific to First Nations. If other communities also improved, however, the source of improvement might more plausibly be sought in broader economic forces.


Appendix 1: Map of CWB in First Nations Communities, 2011


References

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. (2013) Community Well-Being and Treaties: Trends for First Nation Historic and Modern Treaties.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. (2012). Early Parenting in First Nations: Is there a link to Community Well-Being? Ottawa: Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. (2010). Comparison of Socio-Economic Conditions: Registered Indian, Non-Status Indian, Métis and Inuit Populations in Canada 2001 and 2006. Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services. Catalogue No. R32-163/2006

Armstrong, Robin. (2001). The Geographical Patterns of Socio-economic Well-being of First Nations Communities. Agriculture and Rural Working Paper Series Working Paper No. 46. Ottawa: Industry Canada, Statistics Canada. Catalogue No. 21-601-MIE01046

Assembly of First Nations. (2014). First Nations.

Cooke, M. (2007). The Registered Indian Human Development Indices: Conceptual and methodological issues. In Jerry P. White, Dan Beavon and Nicholas Spence (Eds.), Aboriginal well-being: Canada's continuing challenge (pp.25-47). Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing.

Cooke, M. and Beavon, D. (2007). The Registered Indian Human Development Index, 1981-2001. In Jerry P. White, Dan Beavon and Nicholas Spence (Eds.), Aboriginal well-being: Canada's continuing challenge (pp.51-68). Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing.

Cooke, M. (2005). The First Nations Community Well-Being Index (CWB): A Conceptual Review. Paper prepared for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC). Catalogue No. R2-400/2005E-PDF

Kovacevic, M. (2011). Human development research paper 2010/33: Review of HDI critiques and potential improvements. United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved from hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/hdrp_2010_33.pdf

O'Sullivan, E. (2012a). The Community Well-Being Index: Investigating the Relationship between Isolation and Well-Being. Unpublished report submitted to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

O'Sullivan, E. (2012b). The Community Well-Being Index (CWB): Considering Income Inequality in First Nations, Inuit and Other Canadian Communities. Unpublished report submitted to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

Penney, C., and O'Sullivan, E. (2014) Are there well-being gaps within First Nation and Inuit communities? Available upon request from research.researche@aadnc-aandc.gc.ca

Sharpe, A. (1999). A Survey of Indicators of Economic and Social Well-being. Paper prepared for the Canadian Policy Research Network.

Statistics Canada. (2008). Education, 2006 Census. Ottawa: Statics Canada. Catalogue No. 97-560-GWE2006003.

Statistics Canada. (2011). 2011 National Household Survey User Guide. Catalogue No. 99-001-X2011001.

United Nations Development Programme. (2014). About human development. Retrieved May 25, 2014.

Usalcas, J. (2011). Aboriginal People and the Labour Market: Estimates from the Labour Force Survey, 2008-2010. The Aboriginal Labour Force Analysis Series. Ottawa: Statistics Canada. Catalogue No. 71-588-X, no. 3.

Footnotes

Footnote 1

Detailed information on Canadian census data is available from Statistics Canada.

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Footnote 2

Detailed information on the 2011 National Household Survey is available from Statistics Canada.

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Footnote 3

Robin Armstrong's (2001) groundbreaking work on well-being in First Nations communities provided methodological guidance to the developers of the CWB.

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Footnote 4

A reserve is deemed incompletely enumerated if it was not permitted to be enumerated or if enumeration was incomplete or of insufficient quality.

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Footnote 5

Global non-response rate is the percentage of required responses left unanswered by respondents.

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Footnote 6

Information on population coverage in the 2006 census is available from Statistics Canada.

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Footnote 7

CWB scores are based on all community residents since all contribute economically, socially and culturally to the communities in which they live. A study based on 2006 data (Penney and O'Sullivan 2014) showed that including non-Aboriginal residents in Aboriginal communities' CWB scores had little impact on broad CWB patterns. Nevertheless, some individual communities' scores were influenced by their non-Aboriginal populations. We therefore caution against regarding First Nations or Inuit communities' scores as proxies for their First Nations or Inuit residents.

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Footnote 8

Likewise, sensitivity analyses were based on only three groupings of communities: First Nations, Inuit and other Canadian communities. As indicated above, researchers may decide to group communities in different ways. The extent to which boundary changes affect the average scores of different community groupings is unknown. Researchers who wish to compare individual communities or user-defined groups of communities across time are encouraged to consider the possible effects of boundary changes.

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Footnote 9

More detailed information on sampling error is available on Statistics Canada.

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Footnote 10

Non-sampling error is discussed in detail on Statistics Canada's website. Details specific to the CWB are provided in The Community Well-Being (CWB) Index: Methodological Details for additional details.

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Footnote 11

Descriptions and reviews of some recent and ongoing efforts to measure well-being are available from the UNDP and the Canadian Index of Well-Being. Sharpe (1999) and Cooke (2005) may also provide insight into various well-being metrics.

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Footnote 12

For example, imagine we are measuring well-being in only two communities: Community A and Community B. In 1981, Community A had a score of 0 and Community B had a score of 100. The average score for these two communities in 1981 was, therefore, 50. In 2011, the average score for these 2 communities was still 50, suggesting that well-being remained stable for these communities between 1981 and 2011. When we look at the individual communities' scores, however, we see that, in 2011, Community A had a score of 100 while Community B's score had dropped to zero. The extreme "boom and bust" pattern of these communities was masked by the consistency of their average score across time.

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Footnote 13

Most communities' scores changed very little from cycle to cycle. Consequently, the number of communities whose scores decrease versus those remaining stable or increasing is impacted by how rounding is applied when changes from cycle to cycle are calculated. The numbers in table 1 were calculated using the following formula, where the change from 2006-2011 is used as an example: if round((CWB 2011 – CWB 2006) >= 0), 2006-2011 change = stable or increase; if round((CWB 2011 – CWB 2006) < 0) 2006-2011 change = decrease.

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Footnote 14

Intercensal periods are the five-year periods between Canadian censuses. For simplicity's sake, the 2006-2011 period is also referred to as an intercenal period, even though the 2011 CWB is based on the National Household Survey rather than a census.

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