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Canada’s indigenous population is surging, census finds, as fertility rate rises and more embrace identity

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 October, 2017, 12:06pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 October, 2017, 12:06pm

Canada’s indigenous population is growing four times faster than the rest the country, census data showed on Wednesday, marking a dramatic increase in the ranks of people who have long struggled with poverty and marginalisation.

A growing number of Canadians identifying themselves as indigenous, a higher fertility rate and a higher life expectancy for indigenous people than in the past help explain the rapid growth rate, Statistics Canada said.

Canada’s indigenous population grew 42.5 per cent in the 10 years to 2016 to 1.7 million people, compared to 11 per cent growth for Canada as a whole, Statistics Canada said, in data released from the 2016 census.

The findings show a young population, with an average age of 32.1 years, compared with 40.9 for the non-aboriginal population.

The census, which showed indigenous people accounting for nearly 5 per cent of the population overall, also found a younger generation significantly more likely to be raised in foster care. Indigenous children made up 7.7 per cent of all Canadians under 5 but more than half of the children were in foster homes, according to the census data.

The census also found that one fifth of the indigenous population lives in overcrowded housing, and 44 per cent of indigenous people on reserves were living in homes that needed major repairs.

Last month, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada had failed its indigenous people. In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Trudeau acknowledged the dark history of Canada’s colonisation as one of “humiliation, neglect and abuse” and promised to do more.

Statistics Canada estimated that by 2036, indigenous people will comprise one-fifth of the populations of the prairie provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan – potentially giving them greater political clout.

Canada’s indigenous people come from hundreds of nations and bands, with more than 70 distinct languages. They include First Nations, Métis, people of mixed indigenous and European background, and Inuit, who largely inhabit Canada’s north.

Population growth between 2006 and 2016 was highest for Métis, at 51.2 per cent. That appeared to result, at least in part, from more people calling themselves Métis rather than from a mushrooming Métis birth rate, Statistics Canada figures suggest.

In 2011, Métis women’s birth rate was just 12.5 per cent higher than that of non-indigenous women.

“I think these are people who are kind of dipping their toe into these identity waters,” said Chris Andersen, a professor and dean of Native Studies at the University of Alberta.