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Aboriginal Women and Financial Literacy

HandsThe experts agree: if you want to help Aboriginal women move out of poverty, you must begin with financial literacy. That was the consensus of a recent panel discussion featuring former Prime Minister Paul Martin, Monique Bateman, a Senior Vice President at TD Canada Trust, and Diane Redsky, Project Director of the Canadian Women's Foundation's National Task Force on Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada.

Below are the the highlights from the panel discussion.


Diane Redsky: It is an honour to be here. Understanding the challenges that Aboriginal women face in this country is an experience I have lived through myself. My journey has led me to the Canadian Women’s Foundation.   Nine years ago, I volunteered on the Aboriginal Partnership committee that has since funded programs that support the financial literacy of Aboriginal women in very vulnerable communities, both in the North and other parts of Canada. Currently, I am the Project Director for the National Taskforce on Human Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada. The term “Aboriginal women” may include those who live on reserves, in urban areas, or in the North, and those from First Nations, Metis, or Inuit communities. Many women from these communities share the same challenges but many also have challenges specific to their status or where they live.

Monique Bateman: Role models are important, especially female role models in the Aboriginal community. Many Aboriginal women play a strong leadership role not only in their own community but also outside of their community. The girls in my family are all very vocal. Growing up, I was quite an advocate for what was right. In my community, women played a critical role. If you were a female, you were an Auntie—and you never wanted to disappoint your Auntie. In our community of 300 people, everybody had to take care of each other. When I look back, I could have gone in many different paths. I was so fortunate to have other people put me on the right path, even when I strayed. It’s really important to me to provide that same guidance and direction to young Aboriginal girls and women who are in such need. Education is critical—that’s why I’m so happy TD is a partner with the Canadian Women’s Foundation on the National Aboriginal Program. So many young women want to succeed but need guidance. I’m thrilled to be part of an organization that invests in the communities where we can make a long-term difference. Aboriginal communities are the fastest growing communities in Canada. They need our help, they need our advice, they need our guidance. I’m committed to making sure that everyone that I can touch will receive that advice. Even if they don’t want to hear it, they will get it from me because it is so critical that we have role models for our young, Aboriginal women and girls as well. I commend the Canadian Women’s Foundation because this is such a critical area in society for us. So thank you.

Paul Martin: I want to congratulate the Canadian Women’s Foundation and TD. The focus on financial literacy for Aboriginal women shows an incredible insight into what I think is a very important issue. To put it in a larger background, financial literacy in Canada is a plague that affects both women and men, and both Aboriginals and non-Aboriginal communities. We know a lack of financial literacy especially affects people with low incomes and we know that it’s cruel and a source of much pain. It’s my belief it should be taught in high school and that it is a mistake not to do so. I’m not sure I would have said this a generation ago, but I don’t think there’s much doubt that when you look at the way the global economy is going and when you look at Canada’s role in this, prosperity is going to be a bit tougher to come by than it was when I was younger. And under those circumstances, having all of the tools that are going to enable you to succeed is absolutely crucial. Obviously that’s something that might begin with financial literacy. I’m involved with a project called Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship—essentially it’s a high school business course. As we developed the course, eighteen out of forty- five of its modules have ended up being related to financial literacy. You can’t really succeed if you’re going to be an entrepreneur without a healthy dose of financial literacy. One of the things that I found quite interesting was that the students who at first didn’t have much confidence suddenly showed much more confidence. Part of it came from their new ability to discuss their own personal financial condition. We didn’t teach this to them—the course content is focused on business—but they seem to have developed it anyway. I think this sense of confidence is incredibly important, and that’s why I think the focus of the Canadian Women’s Foundation and TD on financial literacy is very important in effectively building up the next generation.

QUESTION 1: When it comes to increasing financial literacy, what are the opportunities and what are the challenges?

Diane Redsky: The Canadian Women’s Foundation focuses on financial literacy for Aboriginal women because that’s where the need is greatest. When we look at women, some are more vulnerable than others. Aboriginal women are more likely to be single parents, raising children on their own with little or no support. They experience higher levels of domestic violence, poverty, sexual exploitation, lack of education, etc. Poverty and violence are linked and systemic racism plays a huge role in limiting opportunities for First Nation women and First Nation communities. We believe that when you help a woman, you immediately help her family and you ultimately change a community. Aboriginal women are strong and they are resilient. It just makes economic sense to do this. Aboriginal people and youth are the fastest growing population in Canada. Flipping economic prosperity from a charity-model to an investment approach, not only makes good business sense, but addresses the root causes that consistently and currently hold them back. Aboriginal women are already strong, so this is an opportunity to build on those strengths.

Monique Bateman: Aboriginal women play such a critical role in their communities, so just imagine how much stronger they could be for their families if we could help them improve financial literacy and get confidence through education. Quite often, they are single parents in survival mode. By investing in them now, we’ll be helping their children five, ten, fifteen years from now. Let’s build their confidence, let’s get them education, and let’s get them financial literacy and it will have a huge impact on our society.

Paul Martin: Essentially for families in poverty, it is women who bare the greatest brunt. If we can open up the world to a whole new set of women entrepreneurs—that is huge. When we started our youth entrepreneurship program, it wasn’t easy to get young girls interested. Today, you can’t keep them out. At first, they were all interested in making jewelry or opening hair salons. Now, they are into computer apps. Recently, one of the girls stood up and said, “I’ve done a study of the trucking industry in Alberta and here’s how I’m going to take it over.” It was staggering and I almost asked her if I could have a job! There’s no doubt about the social issues these young Aboriginal women face. But I can tell you their drive and ability to articulate and communicate is overwhelming. I think we have an untapped source that I don’t think most Canadians understand.

QUESTION 2: How do we help women overcome these barriers and start to get them interested in financial literacy?

Diane Redsky: This is where we get into the complexities depending on where you live. For example, if you’re a First Nation woman living in a First Nation community, there are very unique challenges that you have that other Aboriginal women do not have. Just to name a few: First of all, you get less money. The funding structured within First Nation communities is less than any other person in Canada. The other thing is the myths that people have about Aboriginal women living in First Nation communities. There’s this myth that we don’t pay tax and we’re rolling in money. Then there are the rules set out in the Indian Act that interfere with her ability to generate revenue: you can’t own your house or the land that it’s on, you’re only allowed to use it. So you don’t have any assets. The rules to establish a business on a First Nation community are onerous, so many people just give up. Urban Aboriginal women are likely living in poverty. I participated in a research study on poverty in Winnipeg for the Canadian Council for Policy Alternatives. The name of the report sums it all up: “It takes all day to be poor.” Poverty is like a full-time job. Racism also plays a role for urban Aboriginal women: not being accepted into mainstream services is a sad reality across the country. For Inuit women, there’s just a whole different dynamic, including transportation barriers and a lack of accessible, reliable internet.

Monique Bateman: Women need role models but also someone to give you a vote of confidence and teach you not to take “No” for an answer. How do you give Aboriginal women the confidence to continue looking? When I look at who had the biggest impact on my upbringing, obviously my family did. But for me it was also my grade six teacher. She played such a critical role for me. I had access to this young, bright female teacher and that had a big impact. Till this day, we’re still in contact. She lives in New Zealand and she has kept track of me all the way throughout my career, through my schooling, gave me that vote of confidence. So how do we create virtual role models for our young women and girls that are on reserves or in remote locations? When you look at the economic outlook, it’s critical that we get this right. There’s so much potential there and I get quite excited about the opportunity that’s there but we need to close the gap. If I had to summarize, let’s build confidence. Let’s give them access to information. Let’s encourage them not to take no for an answer when they open up that first door for support.

Paul Martin: In the Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship program, we asked ourselves: “What is the best area for us to concentrate on?” We quickly realized it was elementary and secondary school education. Canadian universities have done a pretty good job of playing catch-up in the last generation, but right across the country that is not reflected in elementary and secondary schools on reserves. Don Drummond, a former Chief Economist at the TD, issued a report on the underfunding of on-reserve education. Depending on the province, it ranges anywhere from 30 – 50 % for students. Just think what that means. That means teachers are underpaid and principals are not getting decent training—both of which lead to huge turnover. They don’t have decent labs. There are no disability programs, even though 20 % of Aboriginal kids suffer from one kind of disability or another. In other words, they get a lousy education which they’ve got to somehow overcome. Even if we teach financial literacy in every public high school in the country, we probably couldn’t teach it in on-reserve schools because they can’t afford to introduce new programs. Even if they could, they couldn’t afford to pay the teacher. This is unconscionable. First Nations are in battle with the government to get their primary and secondary school education paid for on a comparable basis as the public schools. First of all, that’s nuts. There have been 150 years of residential schools. There is massive catch up. Education on reserve should be paid on the basis of need. To start with, make it fair. It should be based on need. There is a problem with all of us in this room, including me. This should not be a battle that the First Nations have to fight alone. We should be out there fighting this battle with them. It is unconscionable to me that all of us in this room are allowing the underfunding of education on reserves. I understand that 28% of women under the age of 15 are Aboriginal. This is not a problem created by our fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers. Residential schools were terrible but we are still underfunding the schools, and giving them a lousy education. Then we say: “Isn’t it awful that they aren’t able to succeed?” It is no longer fair to ask a First Nation, or an Inuit, or a Metis, to fight these battles alone.

Monique Bateman: Can I just add something to that? I was very fortunate. One of the rules growing up was you get an education—that was just a given in my family. If you were sick, you were still going to school. How do we promote financial literacy and education in our communities? I think it starts with the mother. I think it starts with helping young women to see the benefits and encouraging them to encourage their family to go for education as well.

Diane Redsky: It starts with supporting Aboriginal women and Aboriginal organizations to deliver services for Aboriginal women and girls. That is critical. I’ve been to many First Nation communities, including my own First Nation community, where most of the professionals are non-Aboriginal people who don’t live there permanently. There’s this “jumping in and jumping out” that doesn’t build community capacity. When you build from the inside-out, it is long-term and sustainable. Aboriginal communities know what Aboriginal communities need and they know what works. They have the history within their communities. Several times this morning we’ve heard about the importance and value of role models. When you see your aunt and your mother and your sister achieving great things, it gives you something to strive for. That’s critically important. If you’re always seeing people jump in and jump out, there is no connection or any inspiration to pursue. About ten or fifteen years ago, the Canadian Women’s Foundation started to invest in a “sustainable livelihoods” approach to economic development. That means taking a holistic approach to someone’s assets: their physical assets, their human, social, personal and financial assets. It’s not just about getting more money. It’s also about how you use that money, what journey you took to get there and how that knowledge is improving your family and your community. Programs have to be delivered by the community itself where women are at—sometimes this means in their own home and not far away, to reduce transportation barriers. They have to include language and culture. They should offer food during the programs. They should focus on and target young people. And they should include peer mentoring.

Question: What do you think are the best approaches to financial literacy?

Question: How do we move from talk to action?

Monique Bateman: I think it actually starts with holding sessions like this and getting strong partners like TD and the Canadian Women’s Foundation and others. How do you increase awareness? How do you increase knowledge of what’s available? How do you inspire others? That’s what I want to do. And encourage them all along the way. But I do think it actually just starts. Someone has to make it a priority and then build a momentum from there. I was in Vancouver last week on a panel – I was there as a banker, but when we finished it ended up being all about the people. I was asked questions about how I inspired my employees, how I created an inclusive environment, how I created a sense of pride so they could celebrate their culture at work. It was really interesting because that whole dialogue would not have happened if we hadn’t started the conversation. So let’s start the conversation. I think that’s our starting point.

Paul Martin: I actually think it’s already happening. I don’t think we have to make them take an interest in financial literacy. I’ll give you an example: the Chief of a Band in Northern Manitoba called me about a year and a half ago and said: “Ten years ago, we were bankrupt. Today, we’ve got money coming in from government money and from our own businesses. I’m trying to explain the inputs and the outputs to my people and they’re having a lot of trouble understanding. The people have come to me and said that we’ve got to get courses in understanding essentially how a community works.”. That was their initiative. I’ve actually had this experience about ten or fifteen times across the country. So I very much agree that the example’s got to be set I also I think—and this is where I come back again to the Canadian Women’s Foundation—what’s really important is our ability to react when they say “We want and need this,” and you have the capacity to deliver it. So I think that what you are doing is really, really great.


Diane Redsky is Project Director of Sex Trafficking at the Canadian Women’s Foundation. She is a strong advocate for Aboriginal children and women in Canada, and received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for her work on addressing violence against Aboriginal women in Canada. In 2013, Diane spoke on the issue of Human Trafficking of Canadian girls before the UN Commission on the Status of Women and was inducted into the Order of Manitoba for her leadership and contributions.

Monique Batemanis Senior Vice President of Prairie Region for TD Canada Trust, where she leads a team of 4,000 employees in 205 branches in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. She’s a regular speaker on women in leadership and charities. She grew up in a family of nine, in a Métis community in Manitoba. Monique says her Metis heritage instilled in the important values and traditions that have helped her succeed in her career.

The Right Honourable Paul Martin, Canada’s 21st Prime Minister, has throughout his career, taken an unwavering stand for the Aboriginal community. About ten years ago, he achieved a historic consensus between Canada’s Aboriginal leadership, the provinces and the territories which resulted in the Kelowna Accord; the objective was to ensure the provision of equal opportunity for Canada’s Aboriginal population. After leaving politics, he founded the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative, which aims to reduce the Aboriginal youth drop-out rate and increase the number of Aboriginal students attending post-secondary institutions. With his son David, he also founded the CAPE Fund (Capital for Aboriginal Prosperity and Entrepreneurship Fund) which helps establish and grow Aboriginal businesses both on and off reserves.

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