Native Households in Winnipeg: Strategies of Co-Residence and Financial Support
J.S. Frideres is Associate Dean (Research) of the Faculty of Social
Sciences at the University of Calgary and co-author of Prairie
For many years, social scientists have held a particular stereotype of Native families in the urban setting. Using a model of the family consisting of one male, one spouse, and two children, living in a dwelling apart from other kin, with the husband working in the labour force, social scientists have characterized Native families as failing to adjust to life in an industrial urban setting. The present research report is a summary of the author’s MA. thesis, completed in 1981. The author offers an interpretation of the household arrangements of Native people that is not based on a model of family organizations among middle-class urban families. The author argues that in order to understand Natives’ household organization, one must take into account Native needs, economic resources, and the alternatives and opportunities available to them in an urban setting.
The data used to address the above come from one source at two points in time. First of all, demographic and economic characteristics were collected from a sample of Native households in central Winnipeg. The survey design provided uniform spatial coverage of over 25 census tracts in the inner city. Interviews were carried out with every fifth address recorded on the postal carrier list in which the household contained one or more members with Native ancestry. The result was a random sample of 176 households. The second set of data, on employment, was obtained at a later date when 55 of the original households were surveyed a second time.
The results of the study show that there are a number of ways in which Native family households are organized differently from middle-class households. More Native households have single female parents as head and are extended households, and the household composition often exhibits considerable instability. Past results suggesting that urban Natives were unable to control the demands made by their extended families (e.g., for living space, food, money) were not found in the present research.
The results suggest that arrangements in Natives’ households represent a resilient response to the particular circumstances in which they find themselves, given the level of economic resources they have for dealing with these circumstances. The author concludes that the flexibility of household boundaries may represent a mechanism for coping with uncertain employment and tenure and may facilitate the adjustment of new migrants.