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Aboriginal Community Well-Being

Aboriginal Community Well-Being

Physical and Social Environments
Health and well-being are influenced by multiple factors in both the physical and the social environment. The physical environment includes the air we breathe and the water, soil, and food that sustain us, all of which can be contaminated by biological and chemical hazards. Exposure to these hazards may occur outdoors or in homes, workplaces, and schools.1

The social environment encompasses the communal, cultural, and economic aspects of our lives, and includes institutions, organizations, and services, and the ways these affect individuals, families, and the community. Like the physical environment, the social environment can contain hazards, which might include high unemployment and few educational opportunities.

Indicators of Well-Being
Historically, the gross domestic product (GDP) has been used as an overall measure of social and economic development. While GDP is a recognized proxy for average income at the national level, it does not capture how that income is distributed among different populations, nor does it capture other important aspects of health and well-being. New indicators for well-being that combine several dimensions of quality of life into a single score have been developed that permits comparisons between populations and across time.

The Community Well-Being Index
The Community Well-Being (CWB) Index combines information from the Canadian Census about income, education, housing, and labour force activity in a community, and then uses this data to assign a well-being score for each 5-year Census period.2 Unlike other indices of social development, the CWB Index can be used to determine well-being at the regional as well as the national level.3

The CWB Index was developed by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (formerly known as Indian and Northern Affairs) to measure well-being in First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities over time and to facilitate comparisons between these communities and non-Aboriginal communities.3456 Poorer socioeconomic conditions in Aboriginal communities are often cited by researchers, but until the development of the CWB Index, relatively few ways were available to analyze the types of differences between communities.7

The CWB Index is not perfect; the index is calculated from a sampling of all residents of a community, not only those of First Nations, Metis, or Inuit ancestry. And, like other tools of this kind, the index captures the aggregate well-being of a community, and thus does not necessarily reflect the diversity within a community, nor the well-being of individual community members.

Calculating a Community Well-Being Score
A CWB or well-being score is calculated for all Canadian communities with a population of at least 65 people. For comparison purposes, communities are defined as Census subdivisions. Each community is classified as “First Nations” (including Metis), “Inuit,” or “Other.” Individual scores out of 100 are calculated for each of four components:

• The income component is calculated using the per capita income for the community—the total
   income received by community members divided by the total number of people in the community.

• The education component is calculated using the proportion of people in the community 20 years
   and older with high school graduation or more advanced education, and the proportion of people
   25 years and older with a university degree.

• The housing component is calculated using the proportion of people living in dwellings that have
   no more than one person per room, and the proportion of people living in dwellings not in need
   of major repair.

• The labour force activity component is calculated using the proportion of community members
   participating in the labour force and the proportion of labour force participants who have jobs.

The individual component scores are then combined and divided by four to obtain a CWB score between 0 and 100, with a higher score indicating greater well-being. Scores have been obtained in this way using Census data for 1981, 1991, 1996, 2001, and 2006.

  • 1. Young TK. Population Health: Concepts and Methods. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • 2. Armstrong R. The geographical patterns of socioeconomic well-being of First Nations communities. Agriculture and Rural Working Paper Series No. 26. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2001.
  • 3. a. b. Cooke M. 2005. The First Nations Community Well-Being Index(CWB): A conceptual review. Strategic Research and Analysis Directorate, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Ottawa: Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development; 2005.
  • 4. Armstrong R. Mapping the conditions of First Nations communities. Statistics Canada. Canadian Social Trends. 1999; (55):14-18.
  • 5. Armstrong R. Geographical patterns of socioeconomic well-being of First Nations communities. Statistics Canada, Catalogue 21-006-XIE. Rural and Small Town Canada Analysis Bulletin. 1999a;1(8):1-13.
  • 6. McHardy M, O’Sullivan E. First Nations community well-being in Canada: The Community Well-Being Index (CWB), 2001. Strategic Research and Analysis Directorate. Ottawa: Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development; 2004.
  • 7. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. First Nation and Inuit Community Well-Being: Describing historical trends (1981-2006). Strategic Research and Analysis Directorate. Ottawa: Indian and Northern Affairs Canada; 2010.