Indigenization Guide: Urban Indigenous Peoples and Demographics

An excerpt from Pulling Together: Foundations Guide by Kory Wilson

In 2016, almost 900,000 Indigenous people lived in urban areas (towns and cities with a population of 30,000 or more), accounting for more than half of Indigenous people in Canada. They are often referred to as “Urban Indigenous peoples.” The largest Urban Indigenous populations are in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto.

Many Indigenous people move to cities seeking employment or educational opportunities. Some have lived in cities for generations, while for others the transition from rural areas or reserves to urban settings is still very new. Many Canadian cities occupy the traditional territories and reserves of First Nations. For example, Vancouver lies on the traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.

Most Urban Indigenous peoples consider the city they live in to be their “home.” However, for many it is also important to keep a close connection to the Indigenous community of their family’s origin. This could be the place where they were born or where their parents or grandparents lived. Connection to these communities helps many people retain their traditional and contemporary Indigenous culture.

Urban Indigenous peoples in Vancouver

The Urban Indigenous peoples in Vancouver are an important and visible part of the city’s life. However, the majority believe they are viewed in negative ways. Despite this, according to the Urban Indigenous Peoples Study (2010), among Indigenous people in Vancouver:

  • 83 per cent are “very proud” of their Indigenous identity
  • 52 per cent are “very proud” of being Canadian
  • 44 per cent are not concerned about losing their cultural identity; they feel it is strong enough to continue and that they can protect it
  • 70 per cent think Indigenous culture has become stronger in the last five years
  • 18 per cent hope that young people from the next generation will stay connected to their cultural community, and 17 per cent hope their young people will experience life without racism and discrimination.

In 2016, there were more than 1.67 million Indigenous people in Canada, representing 4.9 per cent of the total population, up from 3.8 per cent in 2006.

Table 1.1 Canadian and Indigenous Peoples Population1
Group Population* Percentage of total Indigenous population Percentage of total* Canadian population Percentage increase since 2006
Total Canadians 35,151,728
Total Indigenous Peoples 1,673,785 4.9% 42.5%
First Nations 977,230 58.4% 2.8% 39.3%
Métis 587,545 35.1% 1.7% 51.2%
Inuit 65,025 3.9% 0.2% 29.1%

In 2016, almost 900,000 Indigenous people lived in urban areas with a population of 30,000 or more, accounting for more than half (51.8 per cent) of Indigenous people in Canada.

Where Indigenous Peoples in Canada live

The largest First Nations population is in Ontario (236,680), followed by British Columbia (172,520) and Alberta (136,585).

According to the 2011 Census, First Nations people living in Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta accounted for less than 4 per cent of the total provincial populations. However, First Nations people accounted for 32.7 per cent of the total population of the Northwest Territories, 19.8 per cent of the total population of Yukon, and about 10 per cent of the population of Manitoba and that of Saskatchewan. In Nunavut, First Nations people account for 0.34 per cent of the population.

In Quebec, nearly three-quarters (72.0 per cent) of First Nations people with registered Indian status lived on reserve, the highest proportion among the provinces. This was followed by New Brunswick (68.8 per cent) and Nova Scotia (68.0) per cent). In Ontario, 37.0 per cent of First Nations people with registered Indian status lived on a reserve, the second lowest proportion among the provinces after Newfoundland and Labrador (35.1 per cent).

Métis people live in every province and territory in the country, but in 2016 the majority lived in Ontario (120,585) and the western provinces (351,020). But the Métis population is growing fastest in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.

The majority of Inuit live in Nunavut (30,135), followed by Nunavik (11,800), Inuvialuit (3,110), and Nunatsiavut (2,285). Another 17,690 Inuit live outside of Inuit Nunangat, many in urban centres in southern Canada, including Ottawa, Edmonton, and Montreal. Ottawa-Gatineau had the largest Inuit population.

Where Urban Indigenous peoples live

In 2016, Winnipeg had the largest Urban Indigenous population, followed by Edmonton and Vancouver. But Indigenous people account for a much larger proportion (around 35 per cent in the 2006 Census) of the population of several smaller cities in the western provinces, including Prince Rupert, Prince Albert, and Thompson.

Table 1.2 Urban Indigenous Populations, 2016 Census
City First Nations Métis Inuit Total
Winnipeg 38,700 52,130 315 91,145
Edmonton 33,880 39,435 1,115 74,430
Vancouver 35,770 23,425 405 59,600
Toronto 27,805 15,245 690 43,740
Calgary 17,955 22,220 440 40,615
Ottawa-Gatineau 17,790 17,155 1,280 36,225
Montreal 16,130 15,455 975 32,560
1. Aboriginal peoples in Canada: Key results from the 2016 Census: