Large urban centres draw increasing numbers of Inuit

·3 min read
Nunavut is home to the largest Inuit population in Canada, while the number of Inuit living outside Inuit Nunangat is on the rise. (Statistics Canada) (Statistics Canada - image credit)
Nunavut is home to the largest Inuit population in Canada, while the number of Inuit living outside Inuit Nunangat is on the rise. (Statistics Canada) (Statistics Canada - image credit)

More Inuit live in southern Canada and more of these Inuit are living in urban centres, said a Statistics Canada survey on Indigenous population growth in Canada, released Wednesday in Ottawa.

In 2021, 15.3 per cent of Inuit lived in a large urban centre, up from 13 per cent in 2016, Statistics Canada found.

Its survey found three urban centres had an Inuit population of more than 1,000: Ottawa–Gatineau (1,730), Edmonton (1,290) and Montreal (1,130).

The survey also found 920 Inuit living in St. John's, 690 in Yellowknife, 590 in Toronto and 495 in Winnipeg.

"The numbers for Ottawa are low," said Amanda Kilabuk, the executive director of Tunngasuvingat Inuit (TI), the Ottawa-based Inuit-specific urban services provider.

John Van Dusen/CBC News
John Van Dusen/CBC News

Since the census took place, there's been a noticeable increase of Inuit in the city, Kilabuk said.

Every day TI gets calls from Inuit seeking help, she said.

As well, many Inuit in the city have multiple Indigenous identities, such as Cree and Inuit, whose numbers weren't included in this survey, she said.

Those numbers won't be released by Statistics Canada until Oct. 26, along with a mobility survey about who lived where in the year before the census.

Chris Penney, director of the Centre for Indigenous Partnerships, said he doesn't expect those numbers will change overall population figures.

But that survey will reveal more information about where Inuit are moving, he said.

The census is based on a "usual place of residence," so Inuit receiving services or temporarily staying in Ottawa or in an urban area wouldn't be counted, Penney said.

The count is intended as a "one-day snapshot" of those who live there permanently, he said.

Penny said more results on Inuit will flow from the Indigenous Peoples Census, still underway, and these could shed more light on why Inuit are moving south.

Inuit numbers in the south are rising 

This week's release said in 2021 there were 70,545 Inuit living in Canada, with just over two-thirds living in Inuit Nunangat.

More than two in five Inuit — 30,865 people — were living in Nunavut in 2021, where Inuit make up 85.8 per cent of the population.

But nearly one in three Inuit — 21,850 — including 455 Inuit foster children, now live outside Inuit Nunangat.

That's a big change since 2016, when 72.8 per cent of Inuit or about three in four lived in Inuit Nunangat, "reflecting the faster growth of the Inuit population living outside Inuit Nunangat," the survey said.

The survey found that the Inuit population living outside Inuit Nunangat is moreover increasing at a much faster pace than the population within the Inuit homeland: 23.6 per cent versus 2.9 per cent.

Statistics Canada did not look at the reasons behind the movement south, but noted Inuit living in crowded housing are mainly those living in Inuit Nunangat.

They are more than four times as likely to live in crowded housing as Inuit living outside Inuit Nunangat (52.9 per cent versus 11.4 per cent), the survey said.

The share of Inuit living in a low-income household was similar for those living in Inuit Nunangat (16.5 per cent) and those living outside Inuit Nunangat (16.8 per cent).

"However, these figures do not take into account the relative costs of goods and housing in Inuit Nunangat, which are significantly higher than the national average," the survey said.