Aboriginal population contains three groups: First Nations
(Status, Non-Status and Treaty Aboriginals), Métis
and Inuit. The last available Canadian census figures from 1996 record
799,010 persons as identifying themselves as belonging to one of
these three groups. This figure represents approximately 4.4
percent of the country's population. While many statistics about
Canada's overall Aboriginal population are presented, the 1996
census also contains figures concerning western Canada that
offer a glimpse into the circumstance of Alberta's Aboriginal
population and some of the related issues and challenges.
The Aboriginal Population in Western Canada
(62.9 percent) of Canada's Aboriginal population lives in the four western
provinces. Of those, 63 percent are registered as status
63.5 percent identified themselves
as North American Indians, 31.1 percent as Métis, and less than
1 percent as Inuit (approximately 2.9 percent said they were of
multiple Aboriginal origins or another category).
About 6 percent of the West's population identified itself as Aboriginal
compared to only 1.5 percent for the rest of the country.
Areas of Residence
Of the 502,514 Aboriginals living in the West,
31.5 percent reside on reserves. As in the rest of Canada, many Aboriginals
in Western Canada live in urban settings. Like their non-urban counterparts,
they face social and economic challenges including unemployment, health
concerns, poverty and family violence. However, urban areas often lack
the support structure necessary to
address these issues, particularly the presence of extended family. This
creates significant challenges for both urban Aboriginals and the cities
According to the 1996 Census, there is a significant gap between
the Aboriginal and total population labour-force participation in
the West. The Aboriginal participation rate is more than 10 percentage points lower than the
total rate and related unemployment much higher, with
almost one in four members of the western Canadian Aboriginal labour force unemployed.
Income Levels Given the low labour-force participation and high unemployment rates, the Aboriginal
population has substantially lower average income levels than the
general population. For all four
western provinces, Aboriginal personal income levels are typically only
60 percent of provincial averages (see table below).
The Challenge Ahead
There are a great number of challenges facing governments,
businesses and the Aboriginal community in meeting the needs of the
population. Among these are overlapping and unclear jurisdictional responsibilities among the federal, provincial, and
municipal orders of government. However, only by addressing the education, employment, income and crime-rate
disparities between the West's Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal
populations will western Canada begin to correct these inequities
and provide a positive future for Canada's First Nations people.
Excerpts reprinted from Robert Roach and Loleen
Berdahl, State of the West: Western Canadian Demographic and Economic Trends(Calgary: Canada West Foundation: 2001), with permission from the Canada West Foundation.
This digital collection was
produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital
Collections initiative, Industry Canada.