Indigenous population hits 1.8M, growing at twice rate of non-Indigenous Canadians: 2021 census

·6 min read
Indigenous drum group LoneCry from Abegweit First Nation and Smokey Point from Nova Scotia are shown at a powwow hosted by the Native Council of Prince Edward Island in August 2022.  According to new census data, the Indigenous population grew twice as fast as Canada's non-Indigenous population. (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)
Indigenous drum group LoneCry from Abegweit First Nation and Smokey Point from Nova Scotia are shown at a powwow hosted by the Native Council of Prince Edward Island in August 2022. According to new census data, the Indigenous population grew twice as fast as Canada's non-Indigenous population. (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)

The number of people identifying as Indigenous in Canada grew almost twice as fast as the non-Indigenous population and now stands at 1.8 million — about five per cent of the population — according to newly released census data.

From 2016 to 2021, the number of people in Canada identifying as Indigenous grew by 9.4 per cent. The non-Indigenous population grew by just 5.3 per cent over the same period.

While that growth rate is high, it's almost half the growth rate for the population that identified as Indigenous between 2011 and 2016, which was 18.9 per cent.

The 2021 census attributed that faster growth rate to a higher birth rate and changes over time in how census questions are answered.

"In general, respondents have become more likely to identify as Indigenous over time," the census said.

"The reasons people are more likely to identify as Indigenous may be related to social factors and external factors, such as changes to legislation or court rulings."

Statistics Canada said that because of difficulties in collecting census data on First Nations and other Indigenous communities, some caution should be exercised in comparing census years.

The census also found that the Indigenous population is also younger than the non-Indigenous population.

Just over one in six Indigenous people aged 15 to 64 — or 17.2 per cent of working-age Indigenous people — were 55 to 64 years of age, while the same cohort made up 22 per cent of the non-Indigenous population.

"The average age of Indigenous people was 33.6 years in 2021, compared with 41.8 years for the non-Indigenous population," the census said.

The Inuit were the youngest of the three Indigenous population groups, with an average age of 28.9 years. First Nations people reported an average age of 32.5 years while Métis peoples reported an average age of 35.9.

Indigenous populations also have a greater percentage of children than the average. Kids age 14 and under accounted for 25.4 per cent of the Indigenous population, while children made up just 16 per cent of the non-Indigenous population.

Children in foster care

The 2021 census also found that 3.2 per cent of Indigenous children in Canada were in foster care, compared to just 0.2 per cent of non-Indigenous children in Canada.

Indigenous children accounted for more than half of all children in foster care, at 53.8 per cent, despite representing only 7.7 per cent of children 14 and under in Canada.

Despite the federal government's efforts to reduce the over-representation of Indigenous children and youth in foster care, the number of Indigenous children in foster care remains almost unchanged since 2016.

Of the 459,210 Indigenous children aged 14 and under, 14.2 per cent lived with at least one grandparent, compared with just 8.9 per cent of non-Indigenous children. More than one third, or 35.8 per cent, of Indigenous children lived in a single-parent household, compared to 56 per cent who lived in a two-parent household.

The number of Indigenous people living in housing that was in need of major repairs was almost three times higher in 2021 than it was for non-Indigenous Canadians, although it has fallen slightly since the 2016 census.

Almost one in six Indigenous people, or 16.4 per cent, lived in a place that was in need of major repairs, a decline of 2.7 per cent from 2016. The number of non-Indigenous Canadians living in housing that needs major work stood at 5.7 per cent.

The decline in the number of Indigenous people living in housing in disrepair did not decline evenly across all Indigenous groups over the last five years.

The number of First Nations living in housing that needed major repairs declined by almost four per cent, while the number of Métis living in housing in disrepair declined by only 1.2 per cent and the number of Inuit living in defective housing did not change.

The census also found that 17.1 per cent of Indigenous people lived in crowded housing, compared to just 9.4 per cent of non-Indigenous Canadians. More than 40 per cent of Inuit lived in crowded housing, compared with 21.4 per cent of First Nations and 7.9 per cent of Métis.

While Indigenous people were more likely to live in crowded housing compared with the non-Indigenous population, the gap between the two groups narrowed from 9.5 per cent 2016 to 7.8 per cent in 2021.

Low-income households

For the first time, low-income data was collected for all geographic regions of the country including northern areas and reserves revealing that 18.8 per cent of Indigenous people lived in a low-income household compared with just 10.7 per cent of non-Indigenous Canadians.

While still high, the number of Indigenous people living in a low-income household dropped dramatically since the time of the last census, from 28.1 per cent to 18.8 per cent, the rate of decline was heavily influenced by the actions by the federal government.

"This downward trend in low income has been observed across Canada and was largely driven by government transfers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic," the census said.

While their numbers are on the decline overall, 24.6 per cent of Indigenous children 14 years and younger lived in a low-income household in 2021. The comparable rate for non-Indigenous children was 11.1 per cent.

Indigenous languages

The census also recorded more than 70 Indigenous languages across more than 600 First Nations, 50 Inuit communities and the "the plurality of groups representing Métis nationhood."

The census found that from 2016 to 2021, the number of Indigenous people that could hold a conversation in an Indigenous language declined by 4.3 per cent.

This decline was attributed to a 8.1 per cent decrease in the number of Indigenous people whose first language learned in childhood was Indigenous.

The census found that while the number of Indigenous people with an Indigenous mother tongue had declined, the number of Indigenous people who learned to speak an Indigenous language increased by 7 per cent over the same period.

Highlights of the 2021 census on Indigenous population in Canada:

  • There were 624,220 Métis living in Canada, up 6.3 per cent from 2016.

  • There were 70,545 Inuit living in Canada.

  • There were 1,048,405 First Nations living in Canada.

  • There were 801,045 Indigenous people living in large urban centres, up 12.5 per cent from 2016 to 2021.

  • The Indigenous population was 8.2 years younger than the non-Indigenous population overall.

  • Indigenous people were more likely than the non-Indigenous population to be living in a dwelling that was in need of major repairs (16.4 per cent compared to 5.7 per cent) or live in crowded housing (17.1 per cent compared to 9.4).

  • Almost one in five Indigenous people in Canada (18.8 per cent) lived in a low-income household. This was down nearly 10 percentage points from 2016, but the decline was likely driven by government transfers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Statistics Canada.