Population Projections by Aboriginal Identity in Canada, 2006 to 2031

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By the Demosim Team
Report prepared by Éric Caron Malenfant and Jean-Dominique Morency
Statistics Canada, 2011


It is well established that in the first centuries following the settlement of Europeans in America, the Aboriginal populations in Canada declined substantially. However, it is equally clear that the 20th century was marked by a demographic rebound that shows every sign of continuing in these early years of the 21st century (Charbonneau, 1984; Romaniuc, 2003; Statistics Canada, 2008-1). Based on the data collected from the census question on ethnic origin (or ancestry) that has been asked in censuses since the late 19th century, the number of people reporting an Aboriginal ancestry, estimated at scarcely more than 100,000 at the turn of the 20th century, rose to more than 160,000 in 1951 and exceeded one million in 1991 (Guimond, Robitaille and Senécal, 2009).Note 1 In more recent years, Aboriginal peoples, whether they are defined on the basis of ancestry or self-reported Aboriginal identityNote 2, have seen their numbers grow faster than the rest of the Canadian population, and accordingly their weight within the Canadian population is currently increasing. Persons with Aboriginal ancestry—that is with at least one Aboriginal ancestor—represented 5.4% of the population in 2006, compared to 3.8% 10 years earlier. Persons who reported an Aboriginal identity (basically a subset of the population with Aboriginal ancestry) in turn made up 3.8% of the population in 2006, compared to 2.8% in 1996 (Statistics Canada, 2008-1; Statistics Canada, 2008-2; Statistics Canada, 2003).

This larger population growth in recent years has occurred in the three main groups targeted since 1996 by the census question on Aboriginal identity—North American Indians (or of First Nations peopleNote 3), Métis and Inuit—to varying degrees and for different reasons. The rapid increase in the Inuit and North American Indian populations is largely due to their having much higher fertility than the rest of the population, which is not the case for the Métis, whose fertility is only slightly higher. Yet it is the latter population which, from 1996 to 2006, experienced the strongest growth: 91%, or almost a doubling in 10 years. This is because the Métis saw their numbers increase as the result of a phenomenon known as "ethnic mobility," whereby people changed their reporting of identity to Métis in one census or another. This phenomenon was also observed, although to a lesser extent, in the North American Indian population.

It was in this context that Statistics Canada developed a new set of projections which, based on the 2006 Census, seek to estimate what the North American Indian, Métis and Inuit identity populations might be in 2031, according to a limited number of scenarios. Prospective data are important for the planning of various public policies relating to Aboriginal populations, and because of this, combined with the release of the results of the 2006 Census which shed light on the speed of demographic changes affecting these populations, it was necessary to update projections of Aboriginal identity, since the most recent ones were based on the 2001 Census (Statistics Canada, 2005). For this purpose, Statistics Canada's Demography Division undertook a thorough overhaul of its methods of projecting Aboriginal populations, taking advantage of recent developments in microsimulation. This led to a number of innovations. Unlike earlier models, the current model can be employed to project Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations coherently and simultaneously and to take into account, in the course of projection, an increased number of dimensions such as education and marital status. Also, the projections presented here are the first of Statistics Canada's to explicitly take account of changes in the reporting of Aboriginal identity over a lifetime, and therefore to estimate the potential impact of this component on future Aboriginal populations.

These methodological aspects of the projections are briefly described in Section 1 of this report. Section 2 concerns the assumptions and scenarios used in this exercise. Section 3 describes a few of the limitations of these projections that readers should keep in mind, while Section 4 presents an analysis of the main results of the projections with respect to the demographic growth, age structure and geographic distribution of the North American Indian, Métis and Inuit populations, which are examined separately. Appended to this report, the reader will also find tables summarizing the results for each of the groups projected.

Finally, it should be noted that these projections received financial support from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada in the context of investment in research and development, as well as from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Canadian Heritage, and Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Those departments also actively contributed to the development of the methods, assumptions and scenarios used in these projections.

Note to readers:
Please take note that corrections have been made on March 13th, 2012, to the data shown in Table 3 of this publication. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused. For more information, please contact us.



  1. Since the concept of Aboriginal ancestry has undergone a number of changes in the past century, this historical comparison is made here only to show an order of magnitude. As well, the data shown in this introduction were not adjusted for net undercoverage, while the data presented later in this document were.
  2. See Box 1 for a definition of these concepts
  3. In this document and according to the wording of the question included in the 2006 Census, the expression "North American Indians" is used to refer to this population.
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