Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

First Nations populations soar

Province's remote communities lead way

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MOST of the Top 10 fastest-growing communities in Manitoba are First Nations, especially remote ones.

Fox Lake, the tiny community on the Nelson River near Gillam, nearly doubled in size over five years. It started small, with just over 100 people. Now it has nearly 200.

That mini-boom could be a harbinger of things to come. Fox Lake was among four First Nations to sign a deal with Manitoba Hydro to build the Keeyask dam over the coming decade, securing jobs and revenue.

And, while Canada debates the viability of remote reserves, Barren Lands First Nation, one of the most northerly and isolated bands in Manitoba, posted a 78 per cent population increase.

"It's wonderful news," said band councillor Delphine Bighetty. "We can use that information to advocate for the people here."

Bighetty said she's noticed a small number of people returning to Barren Lands from the city, but she says the population spike is mostly due to new babies and growing families.

Also topping the list of super-charged reserves is Garden Hill First Nation in the Island Lake region on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. Most of the reserves in the area are booming, but Garden Hill's population jumped 46 per cent. Relatively speaking, that's twice the boom Steinbach is seeing.

Wilf Falk, the province's chief statistician, urges caution when looking at some of the data, though, especially on First Nations with very small populations to begin with. The arrival of one or two families can dramatically skew the numbers.

And, Falk said census counts have traditionally been less reliable on reserves -- Statistics Canada often attaches an asterisk to some of its reserve data if the sample size is too low. It could be a reserve was under-counted in 2006, inflating the new growth rate.

But Falk said there is no doubt Manitoba's First Nations are booming. Reserve populations grew by 11.6 per cent since 2006, more than double the province's growth rate.

Census strays

According to Statistics Canada, the fastest-growing place in the province is the mysterious Division 20, Unorganized, North Part.

It grew a whopping 400 per cent since 2006, which sounds like a lot until you notice it started with 24 souls.

Division 20 is one of a handful of census orphans. It's a tract of wilderness land located north of Swan River. It's not part of a rural municipality Statistics Canada can use for boundaries, so the agency makes its own census subdivision.

Another one -- Division No. 18, Unorganized, East Part -- is located in the northern part of the Interlake, and it also grew at a remarkable clip. In 2006, only 88 people lived there. Now, there are 124, making it the 10th-fastest-growing census subdivision in the province.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 9, 2012 A4

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