Census charts Indigenous, Canadian future


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Winnipeg and Manitoba are the centres of Canada’s Indigenous future — and the census proved it true again.

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Winnipeg and Manitoba are the centres of Canada’s Indigenous future — and the census proved it true again.

On Sept. 21, Statistics Canada released more data on the 2021 census, this time on Indigenous peoples. The data was unsurprising.

Indigenous communities continue to expand in Manitoba, particularly in Winnipeg. There are now 102,080 First Nations, Inuit and Métis people who call the capital city home, a 10 per cent rise from 92,800 in the 2016 census.

That means of 749,607 people in the city, nearly 14 per cent are Indigenous.

The next-second largest community of Indigenous people is the 87,600 who live in Edmonton, representing nine per cent of the Alberta capital’s population.

Proportionally, Saskatoon comes close to Winnipeg — at 13 per cent — but is much smaller overall, with one-third the total population.

Manitoba also continues to be a leader proportionally, sitting in first among Canadian provinces with 18.1 per cent of the population self-identifying as Indigenous. The province is fourth at 237,190 people overall, but in places like Ontario and B.C., they are more scattered and in rural areas.

This means every single person in Winnipeg and Manitoba will work with, live beside and know an Indigenous student, customer or voter.

This place is the centre of Canada’s very Indigenous future.

The Indigenous population in Canada continues to skyrocket, growing twice as fast as any other group.

From 2016 to 2021, the number of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people grew 9.4 per cent — while the rest of the country grew just 5.3 per cent. Indigenous people now make up more than 1.8 million of the country’s 37 million people.

Of these, 1,048,405 are First Nations. Métis people count 625,220 and Inuit 70,545.

Indigenous people represent five per cent of Canada’s population — a far cry from the 289,175 reported in 1981 (1.1 per cent) by Statistics Canada.

Most live in cities and more continue to move there. Of the 1.8 million Indigenous people in Canada, 801,045 live in large urban centres, up 12.5 per cent from 2016.

When the numbers were released this week, pundits were quick to point out Indigenous growth appears to be slowing since the 2016 census.

In 2016, Indigenous population growth was nearly double that of 2011, at 18.9 per cent growth.

Forgotten was the intense criticism the 2016 data underwent, when academics and researchers pointed out certain questions encouraged Canadians to self-identify as Indigenous. This resulted in the incorporation of Indigenous researchers and the refining of questions that made identifying as Indigenous more clear for the 2021 version.

Considering the continued growth, it’s more likely this year’s data represents some of the most accurate in history — with Indigenous communities growing at a consistent rate of 10 per cent every five years.

Heading into the next century, Indigenous population growth will continue.

The average age is 33.6 years, compared with the rest of the country at 41.8. A whopping 25.4 per cent of Indigenous people are under the age of 14.

One only has to speak to any teacher in Manitoba. This province’s schools have become the front line of Indigenous/non-Indigenous relationships.

The 2021 census showed something unsurprising but worth noting for everyone in our society: Indigenous youth make up the majority of Canada’s child welfare system cases.

An incredible 3.2 per cent of all Indigenous children under 14 were in foster care, making up 53.8 per cent of all children in care in the country.

This is compared to the 0.2 per cent of all non-Indigenous children in foster care.

Unsurprisingly — but tracked by the 2021 census for the first time — this is comparable to the immense poverty Indigenous people live with.

Statistic Canada reports almost 20 per cent of all Indigenous households live in “low income” — almost double the amount of Canadians who report the same.

Nearly 25 per cent of all Indigenous children live in those low-income homes.

Never has a report given clearer numbers on what Canada will look like over the next 50 years, but also the challenges all of us will inherit.

The potential successes, too — with some vision, dedication and commitment to our relatives who are living, working and growing beside us.

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

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