Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous people in Canada represent 4.4 % of the total Canadian population of 30 million. They comprise 52 nations or cultural groups including 614 Indigenous communities. Economic, social and human indicators of quality of life and development are consistently lower among Indigenous people than other Canadians.The goal of PWRDF’s Indigenous Peoples’ Development Program is to build partnerships based on mutual respect and trust with Indigenous people, in order to build stronger, healthier and more selfreliant communities. PWRDF supports a variety of Indigenous initiatives that promote women and youth empowerment, Indigenous language and cultural revitalization, promotion of traditional knowledge, networking and inter- Indigenous partnerships.

PWRDF Partnerships

KOR uses a children's TV show featuring puppets to teach their language and culture to children and their parents.  Photo: Simon Chambers

KOR uses a children’s TV show featuring puppets to teach their language and culture to children and their parents. Photo: Simon Chambers

  • The Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq, Nova Scotia
  • Kanien’kehaka Onkwawén:na Raotitiohkwa (KOR), Quebec
  • First Nations Adult & Higher Education Consortium, Alberta
  • Nishnawbe-Askin Nation, Ontario
  • Nuu-chah-nutlh Economic Development Corporation, British Columbia
  • Indigenous Culture Media Innovations, Ontario
  • Tilcho Nation, Northwest Territories
  • Northern Aboriginal Iskwewak (Women), Manitoba
  • 2-Spirited People of the First Nations, Ontario
  • Mi’kmaq College Institute / Cape Breton University, Nova Scotia
  • Inter-Indigenous Partnership initiative
  • Kainai Aribi/FAS Committee, Alberta

Canadian Development: Our Approach

In response to the needs identified by Indigenous partners, the Canadian Development Indigenous Communities Program has four strategic priorities that guide its work:

Capacity Building and Institutional Strengthening
The vision of Indigenous partners is to have well educated,healthy people living in happy, prosperous families. Part of creating a healthy community is to provide training, education and employment opportunities for people. Some Indigenous partners see training and capacity building as the best investment for economic development in their communities. Skills training, funded by PWRDF, fosters development of job skills and cutural awareness, and has the immediate outcome of raising self esteem and gaining employment. Leadership development among women and youth is also a high priority for Indigenous partners.

Empowerment of Indigenous Women
Indigenous women have not had the same access to decision-making positions, job training, employment, and business development opportunities as men have had. They face injustice from lack of basic services, education, health care and general opportunities for advancement. While they have been largely excluded from government consultations with Indigenous peoples, Indigenous women have in recent years become much more active and recognized as leaders in the area of human and women’s rights. PWRDF supports initiatives that ensure the involvement of women in consultations, both as agents and beneficiaries of the development process. The objective is to strengthen their capacity to direct and implement activities that empower and bring self-reliance to their communities.

Indigenous Youth Initiative
As their communities modernize, many young people find it difficult to integrate and practice their cultural identity, traditions and values. The rush towards modernization has also been difficult for Elders who struggle to find ways to fulfill their roles as teachers of tribal knowledge, culture and language. PWRDF’s Indigenous Youth Initiative supports projects by Indigenous partners designed to alleviate the challenges facing their youth: unemployment, high poverty levels, teenage pregnancies, disintegration of community and family relationships, and elevated suicide rates. Any youth project supported by PWRDF ensures direct input from the local youth and reflects their specific needs. Increasingly, Indigenous partners name HIV/AIDS programs as a high priority for their youth.

Networking Development
1995 marked the beginning of the United Nations Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples with its theme of Partnership in Action. Since 1997, PWRDF’s Indigenous partners have expressed interest in exploring partnering relationships with Indigenous peoples from other regions, both nationally and internationally. Their aim is to network, share information and experiences between Indigenous organizations, share vital development trends, and the value of new approaches. Such networking contributes to more appropriate technical and culturallybased skills development for Indigenous organizations. PWRDF facilitates partner exchanges between Eastern and Western Canada, as well as inter-Indigenous initiatives between Canada and Latin America.

Let’s Keep Working Together
The Canadian Development Indigenous Communities Program emphasizes the building of partnerships between PWRDF and Indigenous peoples through mutual trust, respect and the building of stronger, healthier and more self-reliant communities. PWRDF’s approach is based on local control that promotes social, cultural and economic development of Indigenous communities, taking into account their distinctive social, cultural and political needs. As a non-Indigenous partner, PWRDF is aware that its role is not to help Indigenous peoples, or to give them funds, but to create partnerships with them, combining and mobilizing resources to produce the deepest, sustainable impact.

Partner Profile: Interview with Caledonia Fred, Youth Business Coordinator of the Nuu-chahnulth Economic Development Corporation (NEDC)

PWRDF has been working with the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal
Council through NEDC since 1998 in initiatives that promote
cultural and language preservation. What is the background of your project?
The Nuu-chah-nulth people, like many First Nations people, have faced many difficulties and challenges. They have struggled, both to survive and to maintain the ancient and proud traditions of their ancestors. Today the Nuu-chah-nulth live in a world greatly changed from their ancestors’ world. As they continue their journey, one great struggle is to preserve, promote and revive the Nuu-chah-nulth language.

Traditionally, the Nuu-chah-nulth language was not written. As with many Indigenous Nations, the history and teachings were preserved through language, therefore it was necessary to train transcribers to document the language itself. In recent years, a few language resources have been developed and printed — Nuu-chah-nulth phonetics,numbers, and two legend books–“but only in the Barkley dialect, one of Nuu-chah-nulth’s three main dialects (Barkley, Central and Northern). However, once one dialect is grasped the other dialects are easily learned, as they have similar traits. Fluent Nuu-chah-nulth speakers are the main resources for documenting the language. But they are aging and most of them have already passed away. Thankfully, there are a few middle-aged individuals who speak some Nuu-chah-nulth and can understand it when spoken. There is nobody under 50 years known to be fluent in Nuu-chah-nulth. Threatened by the extinction of their language, individual First Nations have initiated language and culture programs. One First Nation school has developed curriculum for their language program that will hopefully be used as a framework for other schools. Some Nations also have evening classes once or twice per week for interested members.

Another initiative continues to document and edit Nuu-chah-nulth words that will be foundational for future initiatives. They still need many resources in order to ensure preservation of the language. There is also a need to educate people who do not attend classes and parents of students who are learning the language.

What can we learn from the project?
Two things: 1) That you can empower communities to make their own decisions on what kind of projects work for them rather than dictating to a community what you believe would be the best project for their community; and 2) seeking out organizations with capacity to manage projects within communities can be a very effective means of delivering a program to an area.

What makes NEDC’s Language and Culture Initiative hopeful for the future?
The resources that are being developed will assist in preserving and promoting their language and culture for future Nuu-chah-nulth people to enjoy. To know that there are tools to learn the language is incredible.


6% to projects led by Indigenous Canadians with $60,000 allocated to 2- Spirited People of the First Nations working in three areas:

  1. a youth peer education initiative;
  2. the production and distribution of educational material specifically targeting Aboriginal women covering harm reduction, HIV testing and pregnancy;
  3. and, preparing Indigenous groups to participate in the International AIDS Conference in Toronto, August 2006, including organizing a satellite session looking at the First Nations and HIV/AIDS.