New data from the 2006 Census show that the number of people who identified themselves as an Aboriginal person has surpassed the one-million mark. Their share of Canada's total population is on the rise. In 2006, Aboriginal people accounted for 3.8% of the total population of Canada enumerated in the census, up from 3.3% in 2001 and 2.8% in 1996.
A total of 1,172,790 people identified themselves as an Aboriginal person, that is, North American Indian (hereafter referred to as First Nations people1 in this report), Métis or Inuit in the 2006 Census (see 'Concepts and definitions' section). The census counted 976,305 Aboriginal people in 2001 and 799,010 in 1996.
The Aboriginal population has grown faster than the non-Aboriginal population. Between 1996 and 20062 it increased 45%, nearly six times faster than the 8% rate of increase for the non-Aboriginal population.
Of the three Aboriginal groups, the fastest gain in population between 1996 and 2006 occurred among those who identified themselves as Métis. Their number increased 91%, to an estimated 389,785. This was more than three times the 29% increase in the First Nations population, whose number reached 698,025. The number of people who identified themselves as Inuit increased 26%, to 50,485 in 2006.
Consequently, the share of the Aboriginal population who identify as Métis has grown steadily. In 2006, they accounted for one in three (33%) Aboriginal people, up from 30% in 2001 and 26% in 1996. First Nations people accounted for the majority (60%) of Aboriginal people in 2006, while Inuit represented 4%.3
Several factors may account for the growth of the Aboriginal population. These include demographic factors, such as high birth rates. In addition, more individuals are identifying themselves as an Aboriginal person, and there has also been a reduction in the number of incompletely enumerated Indian reserves since 1996.
Comparing Aboriginal census data over time
Some Indian reserves and settlements did not participate in the census as enumeration was not permitted, or it was interrupted before completion. In 2006, there were 22 incompletely enumerated reserves, down from 30 in 2001 and 77 in 1996.
Data in this document showing changes in percentages and proportions between censuses have been adjusted to account for incompletely enumerated reserves. That is, changes have been calculated using data that include only reserves enumerated in both census periods being compared.
Table 1 Size and growth of the population by Aboriginal identity, Canada, 1996 and 2006
Similar upward trends in population growth have also been observed in the census counts of indigenous populations in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.4 The Aboriginal share of Canada's population ranked second, behind that of New Zealand.
While Aboriginal people represented 4% of the population of Canada in 2006, in New Zealand, the Maori accounted for 15% of the population. Indigenous people made up just 2% of the population of Australia and of the United States.
Eight in every 10 Aboriginal people, just over 944,000, lived either in Ontario or in the four western provinces in 2006. The census enumerated 242,495 in Ontario, 196,075 in British Columbia, 188,365 in Alberta, 175,395 in Manitoba and 141,890 in Saskatchewan.
An additional 108,430 lived in Quebec. Fewer than 25,000 Aboriginal people inhabited each of the other provinces and territories.
Table 2 Number and percentage of population reporting Aboriginal identity, Canada, provinces and territories, 2006
Aboriginal people made up the largest share of the population in the territories and in the Prairie provinces. The 24,920 Aboriginal people living in Nunavut represented 85% of the territory's total population, the highest proportion in the country. Aboriginal people represented 50% of the population of the Northwest Territories and 25% in the Yukon Territory. As for the Prairie provinces, 15% of the population was Aboriginal in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, with 6% in Alberta.
Figure 1 Percentage of Aboriginal people in the population, Canada, provinces and territories, 2006
Although most Aboriginal people lived in Ontario and the West, the fastest increase in the last decade occurred east of Manitoba. Between 1996 and 2006, the Aboriginal population increased 95% in Nova Scotia, 67% in New Brunswick, 65% in Newfoundland and Labrador, 53% in Quebec and 68% in Ontario. Among regions with a high percentage of Aboriginal people in the population, the fastest increase was observed in Manitoba (36%). The Aboriginal population in Saskatchewan increased 28%, and in the Yukon Territory, 23%.
Figure 2 Distribution of the urban Aboriginal population by Aboriginal group, Canada, 1996 and 2006