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Indigenous population continues to grow and is much younger than the non-Indigenous population, although the pace of growth has slowed

Press Release

September 21, 2022

Indigenous peoples, their communities, cultures and languages have existed since time immemorial in the land now known as Canada. The term “Indigenous peoples” refers to three groups—First Nations people, Métis and Inuit—who are recognized in the Constitution Act. However, while these groups are representative of the Indigenous population as a whole, each is tremendously diverse. This diversity is reflected in over 70 Indigenous languages that were reported during the 2021 Census, over 600 First Nations who represent their people across the country, the plurality of groups representing Métis nationhood, and the four regions and 50 communities of Inuit Nunangat that Inuit call home.

Much of Canada’s cultural, economic and political landscape has been shaped by the achievements of Indigenous people. Generations of Indigenous people, including leaders, Elders, healers, educators, business leaders, artists and activists, have made invaluable contributions, touching all aspects of life in Canada.

Over multiple decades, census data have revealed that the Indigenous population has grown quickly, at a pace far surpassing that of the non-Indigenous population. There are two reasons for this growth. The first, often called “natural growth,” relates to higher birth rates and increasing lifespans. The second has been termed “response mobility,” which refers to people who once responded to the Indigenous identity questions one way on the census questionnaire, but now respond differently. Over time, respondents who had previously not identified as Indigenous have become more likely to do so. This may be related to personal reflection, social factors or external factors such as changes to legislation or court rulings.

The Indigenous population in Canada is one of the largest among countries that share a similar colonial history. In 2021, 1.8 million Indigenous people were enumerated during the census. This was more than double the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in Australia (812,728) in 2021, and the number of Maori in New Zealand (775,836) in 2018. In 2021, Indigenous people accounted for 5.0% of the total population in Canada, a larger share than in Australia (3.2%) but lower than in New Zealand (16.5%).

The colonial history of Canada has profoundly impacted Indigenous peoples, their governance, languages and cultures. However, through the efforts and resilience of Indigenous people and their communities, important steps have been taken toward reconciliation and the rebuilding of ties to the unique cultures and languages of First Nations people, Métis and Inuit. In recent years, federal initiatives have been implemented, including the Indigenous Languages Act; the Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, as well as modern treaty negotiations.

The 2021 Census was particularly challenging to conduct amid the respect for isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as regional forest fires that interfered with data collection. Because of these factors, enumeration could not be completed in 63 of the 1,026 census subdivisions that are classified as First Nations reserves.

Despite the challenges posed to in-person collection, the Census of Population remains the most comprehensive source of community-level data for the Indigenous population in Canada and robust data are available for First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities. Census data are used to inform policy and community work for Indigenous peoples, and are comparable across time and across multiple levels of geography. The collection and dissemination of these data would not have been possible without the participation of First Nations people, Métis and Inuit across Canada.

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