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Executive Summary

Aquiring knowledge
Decent standard of living

This report examines the demographic and socio-economic characteristics of the Aboriginal population residing in selected CMAs over the 1981 to 2001 period. These are CMAs where at least 7,000 Aboriginal people resided in 2001 or where the Aboriginal population accounted for at least 5% of the total CMA population. CMAs selected for the study include: Montréal, Ottawa–Hull (now known as Ottawa–Gatineau), Toronto, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

Aboriginal people living in metropolitan areas are, overall, doing better in 2001 than they were in 1981. Some of that improvement may have come from those people in CMAs who have changed their reporting from non-Aboriginal to Aboriginal identity on their census forms over time. Nevertheless, huge challenges still face urban Aboriginal peoples, especially those in western CMAs and large gaps with their non-Aboriginal counterparts remain.

A broad holistic framework has been employed to guide the analysis. This framework has been called the “Community Well-being Circle” and is grounded in four major pillars: acquiring knowledge (or sometimes referred to as “life long learning”); decent standard of living; living long and healthy lives; and building better communities. This report examines the demographic dynamics and composition of the Aboriginal population, and then focuses on the first two pillars of the well-being circle.

This report is the eighth in a series that develops statistical measures that shed light upon issues of importance for Canada’s largest cities. These reports are intended to present facts which can then be available for use by city planners and aid in policy assessments of what works to create a healthy city. Interested readers are encouraged to look to the remainder of the series on trends and conditions in CMAs for detailed reports on Low income; Health; Immigration; Culture; Housing; Labour Markets, business activity, and mobility; and Work and commuting.


  • The Aboriginal population in these cities has grown dramatically over the 20-year period. While a portion of that growth has been due to natural increase (the difference between births and deaths) and to net migration, other more recent contributors to that growth have been non-demographic factors. These non-demographic factors include changes in the net undercoverage of the population by the census over time and the more important factor of “ethnic mobility”. The latter refers to people changing how they report themselves on the census form, namely changing from reporting a non-Aboriginal identity in one census to an Aboriginal identity in another census. This phenomenon is not unique to Canada and has been observed in the American, Australian, and New Zealand censuses among their indigenous populations.
  • The Aboriginal population in the selected CMAs more than doubled in 20 years and in some cities quadrupled, such as in Saskatoon.
  • It is a very young population, although urban Aboriginal birth rates appear to be dropping. The largest age cohorts are in the 5-9 and 10-14 age groups as of 2001, indicating that these large age groups will be entering young adulthood over the next 10 to 15 years. As they do, they should be acquiring higher levels of schooling and entering into the labour force in order to successfully compete in a diverse metropolitan economy. At the same time, they will also be forming families and entering the housing market.
  • In the Prairie CMAs, the Aboriginal populations were approaching 1 in 10 of the cities’ overall populations by 2001.
  • While the extent of Aboriginal net migration to or from CMAs represents a relatively minor contribution to overall Aboriginal population growth in these CMAs, another aspect of migration is the size of the in-flow compared to the size of the out-flow. This has become known as the “churn effect”. In the western CMAs nearly one in five Aboriginal people either moved into or moved out of those cities between 1996 and 2001.
  • Among those who have moved into selected CMAs, the Aboriginal Peoples Survey of 2001 found that 40% said they did so for family-related reasons. Only Toronto and Calgary Aboriginal migrants reported as high a percentage for work-related reasons.
  • Mobility within the CMA is also an important factor. From Thunder Bay through to Edmonton, at least one in five Aboriginal people changed residences within their own CMA in the year prior to the 2001 Census, with Regina and Saskatoon showing the highest percentages (nearly 40%) changing their residences within their respective cities. Such mobility may impact service delivery agencies, school enrolments and student progress in schools, as well as the housing situation of Aboriginal people.
  • Although, the age structure of the Aboriginal population in these CMAs is young, as a result of increasing life expectancy and a declining birth rate, the Aboriginal population is aging. While the share of Aboriginal seniors is small, it has increased significantly over the 1981 to 2001 period, and will likely continue to increase. Consequently, more Aboriginal-specific programming for the older population may well be required in the coming decade.

Acquiring knowledge

  • The shares of Aboriginal youth acquiring higher levels of schooling in the selected CMAs have increased over the 20-year period.
  • School attendance among Aboriginal youth in the 15-24 year age group has increased substantially since 1981 and Aboriginal young adults aged 25-34 years, have seen their shares with post-secondary completions as well.
  • Increase in post-secondary completions has been much more dramatic for Aboriginal females than for Aboriginal males, but both shares have gone up in almost all CMAs in the study. The exceptions were Aboriginal males in Regina and Edmonton.
  • In 2001, Aboriginal young adults, living in many of the selected CMAs, who completed their university degrees, had employment rates on par with their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Regina and Saskatoon appear to be the exceptions. At most other levels of schooling, employment rates of Aboriginal young adults lag their non-Aboriginal counterparts in most CMAs from Sudbury westward, with the exception of Calgary.

Decent standard of living

  • Overall employment rates have improved for Aboriginal people in most CMAs, except Regina in the primary labour force age group 25-54. However, the gap in employment rates between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people did not change very much over the 20-year period, with the exceptions of Winnipeg, Edmonton and Sudbury, which saw the gaps close by 7 to 10 percentage points.
  • Dependence on government transfer payments also decreased substantially in all CMAs over the 1980 to 2000 period.
  • The percentage of the Aboriginal population earning $20,000 or more declined over the 20 years, the corresponding share among non-Aboriginals also fell.
  • The gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal median income from employment sources closed in most CMAs over the 20 year period. While there was a 281% growth in those Aboriginal employment income earners making $40,000 or more, there was even larger growth among those employed and earning less than $15,000.

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Date modified: 2005-06-23 Important Notices
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