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A group of people from Mosakahiken Cree Nation hug in front of a makeshift memorial at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the children whose remains have been discovered buried in Kamloops, B.C.COLE BURSTON/AFP/Getty Images

A new survey suggests that there is a growing awareness in Canada of the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples, and more willingness among Canadians to blame governments for the fact that First Nations continue to suffer inequality.

The September survey, conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, found that an increasing number of Canadians believe the main impediment to economic and social progress for Indigenous peoples lies with the policies of Canadian governments, and that fewer Canadians than in the past believe Indigenous peoples themselves are impeding that progress.

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The survey results were released on Thursday, to coincide with Canada’s first official National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Andrew Parkin, the executive director of the Environics Institute, said in an interview that there is evidence that the Canadian public is beginning to absorb information on harms suffered by Indigenous peoples, including recent revelations about unmarked burial sites at former residential schools.

A report on the results of the survey notes “considerable variation” in opinions among different population groups. Canadians living in the Prairie provinces – Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta – were less likely (at 24 per cent) than those living elsewhere in the country (at 40 per cent) to say the biggest obstacle to achieving economic and social equality for Indigenous peoples is the policies of Canadian governments.

The report also says attitudes of Canadian adults under age 40 differ from those of their elders. Younger people are less likely to see Indigenous peoples themselves as hindrances to positive change.

Fewer than one in 10 Canadians under age 40 (9 per cent) said the biggest obstacle to achieving economic and social equality for Indigenous peoples is Indigenous peoples themselves. Canadians aged 40 and older were twice as likely (at 19 per cent) to say this was the case.

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“Young Canadians have also experienced a larger than average decline in strong feelings of national pride, as well as a larger than average decline in optimism about the prospects for achieving reconciliation in their lifetime,” the report notes.

The survey, conducted in partnership with Century Initiative, is based on telephone interviews conducted with 2,000 Canadians between Sept. 7 and 23. A sample of this size is considered accurate to within plus or minus 2.2 percentage points in 19 out of 20 samples.

The survey asked respondents to say, in their own words, what came to mind when they thought of Indigenous peoples in Canada. A previous survey, in 2016, found that most responses were generally worded. Respondents mentioned Indigenous peoples as the first inhabitants of Canada, listed the main Indigenous population groups (First Nation, Métis or Inuit) or made note of Indigenous history or culture.

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In the latest survey, fewer respondents answered in general terms. More of them talked about mistreatment, abuse or residential schools, the report says.

Twenty eight per cent of respondents to the 2021 survey mentioned mistreatment or abuse as one of the first things that came to mind when they thought of Indigenous peoples in Canada, compared to 17 per cent in 2016. And 10 per cent mentioned residential schools or the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families, compared with only two per cent in 2016.

Women, at 44 per cent, were more likely than men, at 31 per cent, to say that either mistreatment or residential schools came to mind. In 2016, the comparable figures were 22 per cent for women and 15 per cent for men.

Mr. Parkin said the survey is encouraging, because it shows that the general public is paying attention to important issues related to Indigenous peoples.

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