Canada has a population of over 1.8 million Indigenous people. The majority of Canadian Indigenous people are First Nations, Inuit, or Métis. Indigenous peoples were the first people to inhabit Canada. However, they were severely threatened, and even extinguished, by the colonialists.

In this article, you will find a brief introduction and history of Indigenous people whose language, culture, and social systems have shaped Canada before we look at the latest statistical findings from the 2021 census.

Indigenous Peoples Statistics for Canadians

  • There are 1,807,250 Indigenous people in Canada.
  • First Nations people are the most populous Indigenous group with a population of over one million in 2021.
  • The population of Indigenous people grew by 9.4% between 2016 and 2021, almost twice as fast as the non-Indigenous population.
  • At over 400,000 people, Ontario has the biggest Indigenous population among Canadian provinces and territories.
  • Over half of Canada’s First Nations people live in Western Canada.
  • Almost a quarter of Métis live in Ontario or Alberta.
  • Nearly 70% of Canada’s Inuit population lives in Nunangat, the Inuit homeland.
  • Indigenous populations in large urban centres grew by over 12% between the 2016 and 2021 censuses.
  • Over a quarter of the Indigenous population in Canada is 14 years or younger.
  • Cree languages are spoken by 86,480 Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Before colonisation, the Indigenous people of Canada formed complex political, social, cultural, and economic systems. When the Europeans arrived, the traditional ways of Canada’s Indigenous people were altered forever. Measures such as the Indian Act, reserves, pass system, and residential schools were put in place to control Indigenous peoples. These measures have had a lasting impact on the Indigenous peoples of Canada.

The policies and practices were often combined with acts of segregation, racism, loss of land, and unequal access to public services and food resources. This has had a devastating consequence on the socio-economic well-being and health of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Today, Indigenous peoples and their rights are protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act.

First Nations, Inuit, and Métis

Most Indigenous people in Canada are First Nations, Inuit, or Métis. The Inuit primarily live in the northernmost regions of Canada, while the First Nations peoples live mostly south of the Arctic. Métis are people with a mix of Indigenous and European ancestry. The majority of Métis live in Ontario and the Prairie provinces.

Indigenous Peoples Make Up 5% of Canada’s Population

Based on the 2021 census, 1,807,250 people in Canada identify as Indigenous. This means 5% of Canada’s population are Indigenous people. The majority of Indigenous peoples in Canada are First Nations with a population of 1,048,405. There are 624,220 Métis and 70,545 Inuit.

The First Nations people account for 58% of Canada’s Indigenous population. Métis account for 34.5% and Inuit for 3.9%. 1.6% are people who have multiple Indigenous identities and 1.9% are those who are part of Canada’s Indigenous population but not included in the other categories. 

Indigenous Population Grew Faster Than Non-Indigenous Population

Data from the 2006 and 2016 census shows that the Indigenous population grew by 42.5% between the two censuses. That is more than four times faster than the growth of the non-Indigenous population.

The growth rate of the Indigenous population slowed down between the last two censuses of 2016 and 2021. However, it still grew by 9.4% and almost twice as fast as the non-Indigenous population, which grew by 5.3%. Statistics Canada projects that the Indigenous population will grow to over 2.5 million, possibly up to 3.2 million in the next twenty years. The population growth has been driven by high birth rates, increased life expectancy, and more people identifying as Indigenous peoples.

The fastest-growing Indigenous population was the First Nations population which grew by 9.7%. However, there was a significant difference between the growth of First Nations people without Registered or Treaty Indian status compared to those with a status at 27.2% compared to 4.1%. The growth rate for the Inuit population was 8.5% and 6.3% for the Métis population.

Canada Has One of the Largest Indigenous Populations

Canada’s Indigenous population is among the largest in countries that have a similar history of colonisation. In Australia, there were 812,728 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in 2021 and in New Zealand, there were 775,836 Maori.
However, New Zealand has the largest percentage of Indigenous people. In 2021, the Maori represented 16.5% of the total population compared to Canada’s 5%. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represent 3.2% of Australia’s population.

Ontario Has the Biggest Indigenous Population

According to the 2021 census, Ontario’s Indigenous population is the largest out of all the provinces and territories in Canada. The Indigenous population of Ontario, 406,590 people, accounts for 2.9% of the province’s population.

The next largest Indigenous population is in British Columbia at 290,210, which is 5.9% of the province’s population. Alberta and Manitoba are next with 284,470 and 237,190, respectively. Alberta’s Indigenous people represent 6.8% of the province’s population and in Manitoba, the percentage is 18.1% of the total population.

While the Indigenous populations in the territories are smaller, they represent larger portions of the total population in each territory. In Nunavut, 85.8% of the population are Indigenous peoples, 49.6% in the Northwest Territories, and 22.3% in Yukon.

First Nations Population

55.5% of Canada’s First Nations people live in Western Canada. Ontario’s First Nations population is 251,030 people, accounting for 23.9% of the total population of First Nations people. 11.1% of First Nations people live in Quebec and 7.6% in Atlantic Canada. Only 1.9% of First Nations people live in the territories.

In 2021, 71.8% of First Nations people in Canada had Registered or Treaty Indian status, while the remaining 28.2% did not. 40.6% of First Nations people with a status lived on a reserve.

Métis Population

The growth of the Métis population was slower between the 2016 and 2021 censuses than between the 2011 and 2016 censuses. The Métis population grew by 6.3% between the last two census years compared to 30.0% between the previous census years. 83.2% of Métis lived in Western Canada or Ontario in 2021. Ontario’s Métis population was the largest at 134,615 people, followed by Alberta with 127,470 people.

The 2021 census was the first time the questionnaire included questions on membership in Métis settlement or organisation. 224,655 people had a Métis organisation or settlement membership. The Métis Nation of Alberta and Manitoba Metis Federation had the most memberships at 45,350 and 43,920, respectively.

Inuit Population

Nunangat, which is the homeland of the Inuit, was home to 69% of Canada’s Inuit population in 2021. This was lower than in 2016 when 72.8% of the Inuit population lived in Nunangat. This is the result of the Inuit population living outside Nunangat growing faster at a rate of 23.6% compared to the overall growth rate of 8.5% of the Inuit population.

Nunangat includes four regions which are Nunavut, the Inuvialuit in the north of the Northwest Territories and Yukon, Nunavik on the north and west coastline of Quebec, and Nunatsiavut on the north coast of Labrador. Nunavut has the largest Inuit population with 30,865 people or 43.7% of Canada’s Inuit population. Nunavik is the second most populous region with 12,595 Inuit.

Almost Three-Quarters of Canada’s Indigenous People Live in Large Urban Centres

The number of Indigenous people living in large urban centres in Canada is growing. In 2021, almost three-quarters lived in an urban centre with a population of at least 100,000 people. 12.5% more Indigenous people lived in large urban centres in 2021 compared to 2016.

Winnipeg, with 102,080 people, had the largest Indigenous population in 2021. It was followed by Edmonton with 87,605 and Vancouver with 63,345. Montréal saw the largest growth in its Indigenous population at 42.4%. Edmonton’s Indigenous population grew by 15% and Winnipeg’s by 9.4%. Toronto’s Indigenous population declined slightly by 3.6%.

Métis were the most likely Indigenous people to live in a large urban centre, with 55.4% of Métis living in cities. 40.1% of First Nations people lived in large urban centres. Only 15.3% of Inuit lived in large urban centres.

Indigenous Population is Younger Than Non-Indigenous Population in Canada

The average age of the non-Indigenous population in Canada was 41.8 years in 2021, which was several years more than the average for Indigenous people at 33.6 years old. The youngest were the Inuit people who had an average age of 28.9 years. First Nations people had an average age of 32.5 years and Métis 35.9 years.

459,215 or 25.4% of the total Indigenous population were children aged 14 or younger in 2021. The percentage of children 14 years old or younger was only 16% of the non-Indigenous population.

The share of working-age people (15-64 years of age) was similar in both groups, with 65.1% of Indigenous people being working age in 2021 and 65.4% of non-Indigenous people. However, there were more people aged 55-64 years of age in the non-Indigenous population compared to the Indigenous population at 22.9% compared to 17.2%. The share of people aged 65 or over was 9.5% in 9.5%, up from 7.3% in 2016.

Almost a Quarter of a Million Indigenous People Have an Indigenous Language as Mother Tongue

In the 2021 census, 237,420 Indigenous people reported they speak an Indigenous language. The Indigenous Languages Act which was signed into law in 2019 supports and promotes the use of Indigenous languages to strengthen and maintain these languages.

Several Indigenous languages were spoken by fewer than 1,000 people. For example, Wolastoqewi, a First Nations traditional language was spoken by 795 people, while Gwich’in was only spoken by 275 people.

Cree languages are the most commonly spoken Indigenous languages in Canada, with 86,480 speakers. While Cree languages can be separated into several dialects, most speakers of Cree, 60,160 people, reported speaking Cree with no further specification.

The most common languages among First Nations people were Cree languages with 80,175 speakers and Ojibway languages with 24,255 speakers. Among Métis, the most common Indigenous languages were Cree languages with 4,650 speakers, and Michif with 1,485 speakers. The most common language spoken by Inuit is Inuktut, with 39,620 speakers.

Conclusion

Canada has one of the largest populations of Indigenous peoples compared to countries with a similar history. There are three main groups of Indigenous peoples in Canada, with First Nations being the most populous, followed by Métis and Inuit people.

The colonisation threatened the existence of Indigenous peoples and their language and culture but now the rights of Indigenous peoples are protected by law. The Indigenous peoples have played an important part in the development of the Canadian nation and continue to do so.

Frequently Asked Questions

There are three main groups of Indigenous peoples in Canada: the First Nations, the Métis, and the Inuit.

When the 2021 census was carried out there were 1,807,250 Indigenous people in Canada. Most of Canada’s Indigenous people are First Nations with 1,048,405 people. Métis are the second most populous and then the Inuit people, with populations of 624,220 and 70,545, respectively.

Many Indigenous people in Canada live in large urban centres. In 2021, nearly three-quarters of Indigenous people were living in cities.

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