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Aboriginal peoples

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The number of Aboriginal people surpassed the one million mark in the 2006 Census, when 1,172,790 people identified themselves as an Aboriginal person, either North American Indian (or First Nations person), Métis or Inuit.

Aboriginal people make up a growing share of Canada’s total population—3.8% of people enumerated in the recent census, up from 3.3% in 2001 and 2.8% in 1996.

In 2006, First Nations people accounted for 60% of the total Aboriginal population, Métis 33%, and Inuit, 4%. Most First Nations people are Status Indians, meaning they are registered under the Indian Act. In 2006, 564,870 First Nations people reported they were Registered Indians; they made up 81% of the total First Nations population.

The Aboriginal population has been growing faster than the non-Aboriginal population: it increased 45% from 1996 to 2006, nearly six times faster than the 8% growth rate of the non-Aboriginal population in the same period. (Only the Indian reserves and settlements that participated in both these censuses are included in this comparison.)

Of the three Aboriginal groups, the fastest population gain is among the Métis. Their numbers almost doubled (up 91%) to 389,785 people from 1996 to 2006. This growth rate is nearly three times as fast as the 29% increase for First Nations people, whose numbers reached 698,025. The number who identified themselves as Inuit increased 26% to 50,485 people.

Demographic trends, such as high birth rates, are one factor. As well, more people are identifying themselves as an Aboriginal person, and more Indian reserves participated in the 2006 Census than in previous censuses.

The Aboriginal population is also younger: in 2006, its median age was 27 years, compared with 40 years for non-Aboriginal peoples. (Median age is the point where half of the population is older, and half is younger.)

Housing conditions only modestly improved

While the housing conditions of some Aboriginal people have improved in the past decade, others are living in poorer conditions—overcrowded and in homes needing major repair—than those enjoyed by non-Aboriginal people. This is particularly true of First Nations people on reserves and Inuit in the North.

Inuit live in some of the most crowded living conditions in Canada. (Crowding is defined as more than one person per room in the dwelling.) Most Inuit live in Inuit Nunaat, the northern region spanning the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Quebec, and Labrador. In that region, more than 15,000 Inuit—38% of the total Inuit Nunaat population—lived in crowded conditions in 2006, down from 43% in 1996.

Crowding, combined with extreme weather, can cause much wear and tear on homes in Inuit Nunaat. In 2006, 31% of Inuit lived in houses that, in the judgment of the respondent, needed major repairs, up from 19% in 1996. Crowding and the need for major repairs are also more prevalent on reserves. In 2006, 26% of First Nations people living on reserves lived in crowded conditions, down from 33% in 1996. However, 44% of First Nations people on reserves lived in a home in need of major repairs, up from 36% in 1996. Crowding and the need for major repairs are especially common for First Nations people on reserves in the Prairie provinces.

More Métis living in rural areas are in crowded housing conditions than those living in urban areas—5% versus 3% in 2006. These figures were down from 1996, when the rates were 11% for rural and 5% for urban areas. The same pattern is evident for those living in dwellings in need of major repairs: 18% of Métis in rural areas lived in homes in need of major repairs in 2006, compared with 12% of Métis in urban areas.

Inadequate housing may be associated with myriad health problems. Crowded living conditions can lead to the transmission of infectious diseases, and can add to the risk of injuries, mental health problems, tensions within the family, and violence.

Sports participation just as strong among Aboriginal children

Aboriginal children are just as likely to take part in sports as their non-Aboriginal counterparts, according to the 2001 Aboriginal Peoples Survey (APS).

Approximately 65% of Aboriginal children aged 14 and younger participated in sports at least once a week outside school hours, a rate comparable to that of non-Aboriginal children. Twenty-three percent of children reported never having participated, 12% took part less than once a week, 39% participated one to three times a week, and 26% took part in some type of sport four or more times per week. Aboriginal boys were more likely to take part in sports than girls. Children aged 5 to 11 were more active in sports than younger or older children.

Métis and Inuit children were more likely to participate than were First Nations children. First Nations children living off reserves were also more active than those living on reserves. Otherwise, the children’s region of residence was not relevant; the results showed no differences in sports participation between Aboriginal children who lived in urban, rural, and Arctic regions. (These data were gathered from a select number of

reserves that participated in the 2001 APS: they are not representative of the entire on-reserve population.)

Aboriginal children who take part in sports are more likely to come from higher income families and to have parents with higher levels of education, according to the APS. Sports participants are also more likely to take part if they have fewer siblings and live with both parents.

Obesity a serious health problem

A 2008 study of Aboriginal people aged 19 to 50 living in Ontario and the western provinces, excluding reserves, found that they were 2.5 times more likely to be obese or overweight in 2004 as their non-Aboriginal contemporaries. The differences in rates were sharpest among Aboriginal women, particularly those aged 19 to 30, compared with non-Aboriginal women.

Aboriginal people in the study are more likely than other Canadians to report chronic health problems, notably conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and arthritis, which have been linked to obesity. Besides eating habits, the differences in obesity and overweight rates may also reflect differences in income, education and leisure-time physical activity.

For example, inactive leisure time is associated with excess weight for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Both groups in the study were equally likely to be inactive; however, among the inactive, 50% of Aboriginal people were obese, compared with 23% of non-Aboriginal people.

Overweight and obesity rates among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal men are similar. Among Aboriginal women, the higher rates compared with non-Aboriginal women are associated, in part, with higher calorie intake by those aged 19 to 30: these Aboriginal women’s average daily intake exceeds that of non-Aboriginal women by 359 calories.