2. Survey content: concepts and questions

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2.1 Content development process

The content for the 2012 APS was developed by Statistics Canada in collaboration with the three federal funding departments: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Health Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada (formerly called Human Resources and Skills Development Canada). An important framework guiding content development was the 2007 initiative on “Redefining how Success is Measured in Aboriginal Learning”, conducted by the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL) in partnership with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities and organizations across Canada. The 2012 APS also drew on many key indicators from previous cycles of the APS which were developed in collaboration with national Aboriginal organizations. 

Following the release of data from the 2006 APS, an in-depth content review was conducted to ensure the future relevance of existing APS questions to key stakeholders and to identify potential data gaps. The review brought together expertise from a diverse group of researchers and subject matter experts from within and outside of Statistics Canada. This process included extensive analyses of the strengths and limitations of 2006 indicators and where refinements would be required. Indicators were reviewed in relation to 2006 data collection activities, coding, data processing steps and analytical results.  

With respect to new content requirements for 2012, relevant standardized and well-established measures used on other Statistics Canada surveys were gathered and reviewed as potential indicators. These indicators increase opportunities to compare responses between the APS and other Statistics Canada surveys. In addition, recognizing the new CCL framework for Aboriginal learning, new APS content was sought that would allow for the measurement of a diverse range of educational experiences among Inuit, Métis and First Nations people living off reserve. The new CCL framework recognizes that Aboriginal learning is holistic and lifelong, comes from many different sources, and is rooted in Aboriginal languages and cultures (CCL, 2009).

These content development activities led to a series of recommendations that were implemented for the 2012 APS survey. The 2012 survey questionnaire then went through iterations of qualitative testing among First Nations people, Métis and Inuit across Canada, with a particular view to assessing cultural understanding of the questions. Qualitative testing was carried out by Statistics Canada's Questionnaire Design Resource Centre (QDRC) at eight locations across the country, including the North. Based on these results, adjustments were made to question wording, particularly for any new content, and to the flow of questions.

Prior to 2012, the APS used a paper questionnaire format. The questions in the 2012 APS were designed for use in a computer assisted interviewing (CAI) environment for the first time. CAI incorporated many features that served to maximize the quality of data collection. It enabled more complex question flows to be built in as well as on-line edits which identified logical inconsistencies that could be corrected by interviewers in collaboration with respondents at the time of the interview. Two computer-assisted interview questionnaires were developed for this survey: a Computer Assisted Telephone Interview (CATI) and a Computer Assisted Personal Interview (CAPI). These new CATI and CAPI questionnaires underwent extensive modular and end-to-end testing.

One final step was taken with respect to content development for the 2012 APS.  Since the 2012 APS drew its sample from the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) (see section 3.1 for details), it was decided that relevant information from the NHS would be combined with information provided during the 2012 APS interview through a process of data linkage. This approach would reduce the number of questions on the APS and provide for a more comprehensive dataset for APS users.  More details of this process are provided in section 2.6.

2.2 Aboriginal identity groups

First Nations people living off reserve, Métis and Inuit constitute what is called the “target population” for the 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey.  The survey data will support distinct analyses for each of these groups.

The 2012 APS did not include First Nations people who were living in First Nations communities (on reserve) at the time of data collection. For current information on First Nations people living on reserve, please refer to the 2011 National Household Survey  and to a non-Statistics Canada survey:  the First Nations Regional Early Childhood, Education and Employment Survey (FNREEES). The FNREEES will be conducted by the First Nations Information Governance Centre starting in the fall of 2013.  More information on the FNREEES is available from the First Nations Information Governance Centre website.

For the purposes of the 2012 APS, First Nations people living off reserve, Métis and Inuit were defined on the basis of an “Aboriginal identity” concept. In both conceptual and methodological terms, Aboriginal identity has many complexities. This section of the guide addresses the definition of Aboriginal identity and how it was measured on the 2012 APS questionnaire. A more technical description of the survey sampling methods used to identify the Aboriginal identity population for the 2012 APS is provided in chapter 3.  That chapter includes details on how the APS sample was selected from respondents to the 2011 NHS.

A definition of Aboriginal identity

The 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey identifies the Aboriginal identity population as anyone who reported being at least one of the following:

  • an Aboriginal person, that is, First Nations (North American Indian), Métis or Inuk (Inuit);
  • a Status Indian, that is, a Registered or Treaty Indian as defined by the Indian Act of Canada; 
  • a member of a First Nation or Indian band

The first criterion above is referred to as “Aboriginal self-reporting”. A respondent may self-report as being an Aboriginal person and/or they may see themselves as belonging to one or more of the particular Aboriginal groups mentioned: First Nations, Métis or Inuit. First Nations includes Status and Non-Status Indians. It should also be noted that some respondents use the term First Nations while others use the term North American Indian.

As the APS definition implies, a person need not self-report as Aboriginal or as First Nations, Métis or Inuk in order to be considered part of the Aboriginal identity population. If a person has reported being a Status Indian or a member of a First Nation or Indian band, they are considered to be part of the Aboriginal identity population, regardless of their responses to other questions. 

With respect to the measurement of “Status Indian”, the 2012 APS includes everyone who said that they are a Registered or Treaty Indian as defined by the Indian Act.  This definition includes those who were registered under Bill C-31 and Bill C-3, amendments made to the Indian Act in 1985 and 2011, respectively. The newest 2011 amendment, Bill C-3, is called the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act.

Questionnaire items for Aboriginal identification

Table 1 below lists the six Aboriginal identification questions asked in the 2012 APS and shows the Aboriginal identity classification derived from the answers provided to these questions. As shown, in order for someone to be part of the Aboriginal identity population, respondents needed to have a YES response to ID_Q01 (self-reported Aboriginal person) or a YES response to at least one of questions ID_Q03 (Status Indian), ID_Q04B (Registered as a Status Indian under Bill C-31 or Bill C-3), or ID_Q05 (Member of First Nation or an Indian band). Note that those who answered NO to all these questions were classified as non-Aboriginal and considered out-of-scope for the survey. Adjustments to survey weight were made accordingly.

As shown in table 1, the measurement of Aboriginal self-reporting was divided into two parts: ID_Q01 and ID_Q02. This allowed respondents to self-report as an Aboriginal person in question ID_Q01 even if they did not self-report as specific group as named in ID_Q02 (First Nations, Métis or Inuit). For the 2012 APS, respondents who said YES to ID_Q01 but NO to ID_Q02 were classified to a specific group based on their responses to the 2011 National Household Survey. In addition, those who reported that they were a Status Indian or a member of a First Nation or Indian band without a self-reported Aboriginal group were classified as having a First Nations identity for the purposes of the 2012 APS

For more information with respect to the collection and processing of Aboriginal identification data in the 2012 APS, please also refer to sections 5.7 of this guide. As well, for differences between the 2012 APS and 2006 APS questions on Aboriginal identity, see section 8.2.3.

Table 1
Questionnaire flow and Aboriginal identity classification
Table summary
This table displays the results of questionnaire flow and aboriginal identity classification. The information is grouped by questionnaire flow and aboriginal identity classification (appearing as row headers), first nations, métis, inuit and non-aboriginal (out of scope) (appearing as column headers).
Questionnaire flow and Aboriginal identity classification First Nations Métis Inuit Non-Aboriginal (out of scope)
ID_Q01 - Are you an Aboriginal person, that is, First Nations, Métis or Inuk (Inuit)? First Nations includes Status and Non-Status Indians.  
Yes ... see subsequent questions  
ID_Q02 - Are you First Nations, Métis or Inuk (Inuit)?  
First Nations (North American Indian) X      
Métis   X    
Inuk     X  
No - see subsequent questions  
ID_Q03 - Are you a Status Indian, that is, a Registered or Treaty Indian as defined by the Indian Act of Canada?  
Yes X      
No - classification based on overall responses  
ID_Q04A - Have you ever applied to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (previously named INAC) to be registered as a Status Indian under Bill C-31 or Bill C-3?  
Yes ...  
ID_Q04B - Have you been registered as a Status Indian under Bill C-31 or Bill C-3?  
Yes, Bill C-31 X      
Yes, Bill C-3 X      
No - classification based on overall responses  
No - classification based on overall responses  
ID_Q05 - Are you a member of a First Nation or Indian band?  
Yes X      
No - classification based on overall responses  
No to all questions:       X
ID_Q01-Q02, ID_Q03, ID_Q04A-Q04B and ID_Q05  

Aboriginal identity variables available to data users

Data made available from the 2012 APS will provide analytical variables for each aspect of Aboriginal identity. These variables will be central to data users for conducting their analyses of subject matter themes for each group - First Nations people living off reserve, Métis and Inuit. Aboriginal identity variables will include indicators of both single and multiple identities (for example, persons who reported as being both a First Nations person and Métis). Variables on Status Indian (Registered or Treaty) will also be available for analysis. A variable on Aboriginal ancestry will be provided from the NHS since it was not measured directly by the 2012 APS.

2.3 Levels of geography

The 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey ensured coverage of certain core geographic domains. These included provinces and territories (with the Atlantic provinces grouped) and the four Inuit regions of Inuit Nunangat.

Inuit Nunangat is the homeland of Inuit of Canada. It includes the communities located in the four Inuit regions: Nunatsiavut (Northern coastal Labrador), Nunavik (Northern Quebec), the territory of Nunavut and the Inuvialuit region of the Northwest Territories. These regions collectively encompass the area traditionally occupied by Inuit in Canada (see map 1). 

As described in more detail in section 3.2 covering sampling design, these geographic domains were targeted by the 2012 APS to ensure that adequate data estimates would be available at these levels of geography. Other geographic variables are also available in the 2012 APS database, based on geographies from the National Household Survey. These include Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs), Census Subdivisions (CSDs) and Population Centres, among others. In addition, geographies will include health regions across Canada which represent administrative areas or regions of interest to health authorities.

Users should note, however, that not all APS data can be cross-tabulated or analyzed at detailed levels of geography. Some data tables will be possible for more detailed geographies but the reliability of data estimates at each level will need to be examined on a case by case basis.

Data users are directed to the 2012 APS codebook (data dictionary) for a complete list of geographies available from the Aboriginal Peoples Survey (contact Statistics Canada Client Services at sasd-dssea@statcan.gc.ca or 1-800-263-1136). The National Household Survey (NHS) Dictionary also defines geographies relevant to the APS.

Map 1
The four regions of Inuit Nunangat

Description for map 1
Map 1 The four regions of Inuit Nunangat
Source(s): Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

2.4 Survey content themes

Reflecting a focused thematic approach, the 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey collected data falling into four content areas:

  • Education Component
  • Employment Component
  • Health Supplement
  • Additional Core Content

This section describes these four content areas. Section 2.5 below provides an outline of the questionnaire modules of the 2012 APS. Appendix A provides a detailed list of the indicators measured in each of these modules.  For more information, refer to the 2012 APS questionnaire.

In addition, a comprehensive description of all the variables available from the survey data is provided in the 2012 APS codebook (data dictionary). For details on how to obtain the codebook, please contact Statistics Canada Client Services at sasd-dssea@statcan.gc.ca or 1-800-263-1136.

Education component

The content for the education component of the 2012 APS was conceptualized based on different educational groups or streams. Questions were shaped to inquire into the school experiences of persons in four different educational groups:

  • Current school attendees in grades 1 to 6;
  • Current school attendees in grades 7 to 12;
  • High school completers, with a diploma or its equivalent; and
  • High school leavers with no high school diploma and not currently attending grades 1-12

High school completers are defined as persons who had met the minimum requirements for high school graduation at the time of the survey. This group includes persons who had completed a high school equivalency program. Leavers are defined as those who were not in elementary or high school at the time of the survey and had not met the minimum requirements for high school graduation. Persons enrolled in a high school equivalency program but had not completed it at the time of the survey were grouped as “leavers”.

The survey followed different questionnaire flows for the different educational groups, providing data on selected themes for each group, as follows:

  • For current attendees: school experiences of children and youth, school characteristics, parental involvement, educational aspirations
  • For high school completers and leavers: elementary and high school experiences, particularly  in last year of school; educational pathways through the school system, highest level of schooling attained, barriers encountered, post-secondary school experiences

Content for each of these groups has led to a rich data set for addressing a range of potential research and policy questions as well as educational program needs. The survey provides data on the current needs of Aboriginal students and their families and also allows for a broader understanding of the factors associated with the successful completion of high school. The data allow for in-depth analysis of the differences between high school completers and leavers in terms of the quality of school experiences and the difficulties students face, including the types of support students receive at school, family involvement, relationships with peers, the experience of changing schools, and reasons for leaving school. Educational data also cover other important indicators such as highest level of schooling, post secondary credentials and major field of study.

It should also be noted that even though the APS targets First Nations people living off reserve, some of these respondents may have gone to school on a reserve at some point in the past. The 2012 APS asks respondents if they have ever attended an elementary or high school in a First Nations Community (on reserve).

Employment component

The employment component of the 2012 APS focuses on persons aged 15 and over. It explores employment and unemployment experiences, covering key labour force indicators such as labour market activities in a specific reference period, occupation and industry of work, and non-standard work arrangements such as temporary work, part-time work and the holding of multiple jobs. The content also covers in-depth data on potential labour market difficulties including barriers encountered in finding work, reasons for working part-time, methods used in looking for work, and impediments to labour mobility. Participation in traditional activities is also captured. 

This content provides rich data for addressing a range of research and policy issues in the area of employment for First Nations people living off reserve, Métis and Inuit. These indicators also enrich analyses of successes and challenges in relation to high school completers and leavers. 

Health supplement

The 2012 APS Health Supplement covers the important topics of access to health care, measures of physical health, mental health, injuries, smoking, drinking, and drug use, food insecurity and community support. These indicators provide for potential analyses of issues related to health care access, physical and mental health status and areas of health risks.  These indicators will also enrich the analysis of successes and barriers in education and employment.

Other core indicators

A wide range of other core indicators have been added to the 2012 APS covering the areas of Aboriginal languages, housing, mobility, household composition and residential school attendance. These variables will allow for ongoing tracking of many important issues for First Nations people living off reserve, Métis and Inuit.

2.5 Questionnaire modules

This section provides a list of the modules on the 2012 APS questionnaire. Appendix A provides a detailed list of the indicators measured in each of these modules. Appendix B lists the extra classification categories created during survey coding. Appendix C describes the standard classifications used to create indicators for open-ended survey questions.

  • Introduction
  • Aboriginal identification
  • Household composition and marital status
  • Mobility
  • Education
    • Education status
    • Education 1:  Current attendees, grades 1 to 6
    • Education 2:  Current attendees, grades 7 to 12
    • Education 3:  High school leavers and completers, under age 45
    • Education 4:  High school leavers and completers, age 45 and over
  • Aboriginal languages
  • Residential school
  • Employment (aged 15 and over)
    • Labour market activities
    • Labour force status
    • Looking for work
    • Discouraged workers
    • Past job attachment
    • Multiple employment
    • Class of worker
    • Incorporated business
    • Job tenure
    • Industry
    • Occupation
    • Usual hours of work
    • Part-time employment
    • Permanent work
    • Labour mobility
  • Traditional activities
  • Income
  • Health
    • General health 1 – Health status
    • Pregnancy and childbirth
    • Height and weight
    • General health 2 – Contact with health professionals
    • Chronic conditions
    • Injuries
    • Mental health
    • Distress
    • Suicide
    • Smoking
    • Alcohol use
    • Drug use
    • Food security
    • Community support
  • Housing

2.6 Linked content from the National Household Survey

The Aboriginal Peoples Survey (APS) has historically been a postcensal survey, with its sample being drawn from Aboriginal census respondents. In 1991, 2001 and 2006, APS data were linked with data from each corresponding Census of Population. In 2011, the Census of Population was modified and the very detailed information previously collected on the long-form Census questionnaire was moved to the new 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), including the questions identifying the Aboriginal population. For 2012, the APS sample was drawn from respondents to the 2011 NHS and the final Aboriginal Peoples Survey microdata file was linked with the 2011 National Household Survey Dissemination Database. (Additional information on the sample selection for the APS is provided in Chapter 3 of this document).

The specific benefits of an APS-NHS record linkage are reduced response burden for the target population of the APS, the establishment of survey weights which are crucial to providing valid estimates, and the creation of a comprehensive microdata file which can be used by data analysts to extend their learning and to inform policy and program development for Aboriginal Peoples in Canada. Together, data from the two sources will provide a detailed statistical portrait of First Nations people living off-reserve, Métis and Inuit in Canada - data which are not available from any other source. 

At the time of data collection, all NHS respondents were informed that the information they provided might be used in support of other Statistics Canada surveys. Specifically, the message on the cover of the 2011 NHS questionnaire stated:  “Your information may be used by Statistics Canada in support of our other surveys or for analysis.”  As well, at the outset of the 2012 APS survey interview, respondents were told about the purpose of the survey, its voluntary nature and that:

  • “In order to reduce the number of questions, Statistics Canada plans to combine information collected during the 2011 National Household Survey to the information you provide in this interview. We may also add information from other surveys or administrative data sources. All information will be kept confidential and used for statistical purposes only”.  

All products containing linked data are disseminated in accordance with Statistics Canada’s policies, guidelines and standards. Only aggregate statistical estimates that conform to the confidentially provisions of the Statistics Act can be released outside of Statistics Canada. All data requests for APS tabulations are screened for confidentiality and the aggregate data are rounded before being released to clients.

More than 100 NHS variables were linked to the final APS file for 2012. The list below indicates the type of NHS variables that have been appended to the APS analytical file. It is important to note that these NHS variables, having been obtained from the 2011 NHS responses for 2012 APS respondents, refer to each respondent’s situation on the day of the NHS, that is, as of May 10, 2011. Users should be aware that in some cases, the respondent may have moved, had a change in the composition of their household, or had a change in employment between the date of the NHS and the date of the APS interview.  In other words, some of the information provided by the NHS may not be reflective of the respondent’s situation when the APS interview took place.

A complete list of linked NHS variables and their accompanying notes are provided in the 2012 APS codebook (data dictionary) which accompanies the APS analytical file. 

  • Household level variables
    • Geography, including census metropolitan areas and Inuit area of residence
    • Housing, including tenure, number of rooms in dwelling and need for repairs
    • Family, including presence of spouse/partner in household, presence and number of children in census family and parent or guardian information for child respondents
    • Family, including presence of spouse/partner in household, presence and number of children in census family, number of persons in the census family, and census family status and structure. In addition, a series of derived variables is included in order to provide NHS information on the parent(s) or guardian(s) of APS respondents who were less than 18 years of age. These variables include several NHS characteristics of the first person most knowledgeable about the respondent (PMK1) and, if applicable, the same characteristics for second person most knowledgeable (PMK2, who was generally the spouse or partner of PMK1).  NHS characteristics of the PMK1 and PMK2 included Aboriginal identity and ancestry, Registered or Treaty Indian status, age and sex, marital and common-law status, Aboriginal mother tongue and Aboriginal home language, labour force status, and total income.
  • Person-level variables
    • Ethnicity and religion
    • Employment, including labour force status, weeks worked in 2010, class of worker, full-time or part-time work
    • Place of work, including place of work status, type of commuting and distance
    • Mobility, including mobility status 1 and 5 years ago
    • Income, including family income, employment income, low-income status
    • Language, including knowledge of official languages, mother tongue, language spoken at home and language of work
    • Activity limitations, including activity difficulties/reductions at home, work and school

2.7 Content input from other surveys

The 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey drew on questionnaire content from multiple sources. The 2006 APS was used as a starting point and served as a key source of well-established questions for use with First Nations people living off-reserve, Métis and Inuit. Questions were also drawn from other surveys as much as possible to enhance robustness of the data and allow for comparability across data sources, where appropriate. Sometimes these questions were modified for a better fit with the APS. In such instances, the data are not directly comparable.

This section outlines the primary sources used for 2012 APS questionnaire development in relation to the main survey themes. It should be noted that these sources do not represent a comprehensive list of all the Statistics Canada surveys that include indicators found on the APS

Aboriginal identification

  • 2011 National Household Survey (NHS)
  • 2006 Aboriginal Peoples Survey (APS)


  • 2006 APS, 2001 APS, and 1991 APS
  • 2006 Aboriginal Children’s Survey (ACS)
  • National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY)
  • Youth in Transition Survey (YITS)
  • Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)
  • National Household Education Surveys Program
  • Access and Support to Education and Training Survey (ASETS)
  • School Leavers Survey


  • 2006 APS
  • Labour Force Survey (LFS)
  • Survey of Older Workers (SOW)


  • 2006 APS
  • First Nations Regional Health Survey (RHS)
  • Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS)
  • Survey of Young Canadians (SYC)
  • Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS)

It is also worth noting that there are four main social surveys at Statistics Canada for which data are available by Aboriginal group: the National Household Survey (NHS), the Labour Force Survey (LFS), the General Social Survey (GSS) and the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS).

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