Native Literacy at a Glance

Literacy proficiency is the ability to understand and use printed information in daily activities, at home, at work, and in the community.
It is not about whether or not one can read but how well one reads.

Did You Know…

  • Today’s job require highly literate workers – not just the ability to read and write well but thinking skills such as problem solving, decision making, critical thinking, and organizational skills.
  • Literacy levels are connected to most of the pressing social and economic issues – unemployment, poverty, homelessness, health, rates of incarceration, social assistance, and child well being.
  • A high school education is no guarantee that a person has the literacy skills he/she needs to succeed but the lack of a high school education is a very strong indicator that he/she does not have the necessary skills.
  • Learning doesn’t end when we leave school – it is a lifelong process.
  • Literacy levels influence the kind of jobs we’ll get, the salaries we’ll earn, our standard of living, the type of homes we’ll live in, the type of education our children will receive and our ability to participate fully in our communities.
  • Ontario has the largest population of Aboriginal people of any Canadian province or territory – nearly one in five Aboriginal people in Canada live in Ontario.

Strengthening Our Literacy Foundation is Key to Canada’s Future:
Movement for Canadian Literacy, April 2003

IALS ranked the literacy skills of almost half of Canadian adults as below the acceptable range, and the reality is that Canada’s Aboriginal peoples have even lower literacy rates. One indicator of this is that the proportion of Registered Indians with less than a Grade 9 education in 1996 was approximately double that of other Canadians.

  • In Ontario 31% of Native people living on reserve have no formal education or less than Grade 9 compared with 10% in the non-Native population – more than triple the rate.2
  • Native youth living on-reserve have an extremely high drop out rate between Grades 9 and 10 because there are often no high schools to attend in their community.
  • A parent’s level of education has a direct relationship to the literacy scores of their children. This is true for Native and non-Native people.
  • Learning doesn’t end when we leave school – it is a lifelong process.
  • In 2003 youth aged 16-25, whose parents had little or no education, scored even lower literacy levels than similar youth in 1994.2

Strengthening Our Literacy Foundation is Key to Canada’s Future:
Movement for Canadian Literacy, April 2003

This [lack of literacy skills] is compounded by the inter-connectedness of literacy to poverty, poor health, and unemployment.

  • The number of Native people in federal institutions increased by 21.7 percent at the same time prison populations declined by 12.5 percent (from 1996 to 2004), a difference of 34 percent.3
  • The number of incarcerated Native women increased a staggering 74.2 percent over the same period of time.
  • Aboriginal young people are criminalized and jailed at earlier ages and for longer periods of time than non-Aboriginal youth.3
  • In 2000, over 41 percent of all federal Aboriginal offenders were 25 years of age or younger. Experts believe that unless the current trend is changed, Aboriginals could make up 25 percent of Canada’s correctional population in less than 10 years, even though they are less than 3 percent of the adult Canadian population.3

AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine

First Nations poverty is the single greatest social justice issue in Canada today. Poverty breeds helplessness and hopelessness, which results in far too many of our young men and women commiting crimes of despair

  • Suicide is now among the leading causes of death among First Nations youth between the ages of 19 and 24, with an estimated rate five to six times higher than that of non-Aboriginal youth.4
  • In Ontario the Aboriginal population is growing rapidly. From 1996 to 2001, it grew by 33%, compared to a 6% growth in the total population of Ontario.5
  • By 2017 the median age for the Native population is estimated to be 27.8 while the non-Native median age will have gone up to 41.3 – a difference of 13.5 years.6
  • 55 percent of Native people in Ontario live on-reserve while 45 percent live off reserve.1

Raising Adult Literacy Skills:The Need for a Pan-Canadian Response, HRDC, June 2003

As the Canadian economy becomes more knowledge-intensive, Aboriginal people lacking the necessary education and literacy skills to compete in the labour market will be excluded from the new economic opportunities and will be pushed even further to the margins of society.

  • In 2001 45% of the Native population living off reserve were under the age of 25. Only 4% were 65 years and over, compared to 12% of the non-Native population. 5
  • In 2005 25% of the Native population in Ontario were between the ages of 15 and 29 and another 9.1% were aged 10-14, ready to join the workforce over the next 10 years. 1
  • Canada’s literacy challenges are undermining our economic potential. Literacy is strongly connected to productivity and position in the global economy.
  • A 1% increase in average literacy rates yields a 1.5% permanent increase in the GDP. 7


  1. Registered Indian Population by Region and Type of Residence, December 31, 2005… Department of Indian Affairs and Norther Development – 2006

  2. 2003 International Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (IALLS)

  3. Corrections and Conditional Release Statsistcal Overview, December 2004

  4. Health Canada, Health Sectoral Session Background Paper, October 2004

  5. Aboriginal Peoples Survey 2001 – Provincial and Territorial Reports: Off reserve Aboriginal Population…Statistics Canada…March 2006…Catalogue no. 89-618-XIE

  6. Population Projections for 2017 – Canadian Policy Research Network

  7. Coulombe, Tremblay and Marchand, 2004