Sarah Nelson, PhD Candidate
Despite the high proportion of Aboriginal peoples living in urban areas - today, over 50% of the Aboriginal population lives in an urban area (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, 2014) - research and policy remain focused on the reserve-based population (Wilson & Young, 2008; Newhouse & Peters, 2003). Given the diversity of Aboriginal peoples in urban areas as well as the contested nature of ownership of city land (Environics Institute, 2010; James, 2013), it is urgent that the rights of Aboriginal peoples in cities be more thoroughly explored and articulated (Andersen & Denis, 2003; Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1997). The research I am undertaking for my PhD, with supervisor Dr. Kathi Wilson, investigates links between Aboriginal rights and Aboriginal social services in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada. The study¹s main research question is: "what impact does availability of, and access to, Aboriginal social services have on Aboriginal rights in an urban environment?" In other words, what are the challenges for service planning and delivery of Aboriginal social services in urban areas, and what are the links between access to Aboriginal services and Aboriginal rights?
Aboriginal social services include (but are not limited to) ³education, training, employment, economic development, child care, health, housing, cultural support and corrections² (Environics Institute, 2010, p. 44). The Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study, a survey of Aboriginal peoples living in 11 Canadian cities conducted in 2009, found that people who use Aboriginal social services tend to do so for both the specific resources they offer, and for the sense of community and cultural connectedness these services provide (Environics Institute, 2010). Aboriginal rights are more difficult to articulate in urban areas (Senese & Wilson, 2013; Kulchyski, 2011; Andersen & Denis, 2003). In a recent study, Senese and Wilson (2013) found that Aboriginal peoples who moved to Toronto from a reserve or rural area felt that their Aboriginal rights were less respected in Toronto, in part through decreased access to social services such as education, health care, or transportation.