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2006 Census: Aboriginal Peoples in Canada in 2006: Inuit, Métis and First Nations, 2006 Census: First Nations people

Large increase in the First Nations population

New data from the 2006 Census show that the North American Indian population has grown at a fast rate during the past decade.

An estimated 698,025 people identified themselves as North American Indian.1 They are referred to as 'First Nations people' for the purposes of this report. They comprised 60% of the 1,172,790 persons who identified themselves as an Aboriginal person in the census, and 2.2% of the total population of Canada.

The First Nations population increased 29% between 1996 and 2006,2 3.5 times the growth rate of 8% for the non-Aboriginal population.

There are 615 First Nations and 10 distinct First Nations language families in Canada. Some First Nations people have registered Indian status under the Indian Act and others do not (see text box on the Indian Act and Bill C-31).

The majority of First Nations people are Status Indians, meaning they are registered under the Indian Act. The census enumerated 564,870 people who reported they were Registered Indians, 81% of the total First Nations population. An estimated 133,155 First Nations people were not registered under the Indian Act.

Between 1996 and 2006, the Non-Registered population of First Nations people increased 53%, more than twice the growth rate (24%) of the registered population. This growth may be in part related to provisions of the Indian Act governing the transmission of registered status to children.

Table 17 Size and growth of the First Nations population, Canada, provinces and territories, 1996 to 2006

The Indian Act and Bill C-31

The Indian Act sets out certain federal government obligations and regulates the management of Indian reserve lands, Indian moneys and other resources.

Status Indians are people who are entitled to have their names included on the Indian Register, an official list maintained by the federal government. Certain criteria determine who can be registered as a Status Indian. Only Status Indians are recognized as Indians under the Indian Act, which defines an Indian as 'a person who, pursuant to this Act, is registered as an Indian or is entitled to be registered as an Indian.' Status Indians are entitled to certain rights and benefits under the law.3

Prior to 1985, under certain provisions of the Indian Act, Registered Indian women who married men who were not Registered Indians automatically lost their status and as a result, their band membership. This meant that these women could no longer pass their status on to their children. The opposite was true for Registered Indian men, as the Indian Act conferred status to their non-registered spouse.

The 1985 Act to Amend the Indian Act, also known as Bill C-31, eliminated certain discriminatory provisions of the Indian Act, including the section that resulted in Registered Indian women losing their Indian status when they married non-status men. Bill C-31 enabled people affected by the discriminatory provisions of the old Indian Act to apply to have their Indian status restored.

Bill C-31 introduced new inheritance rules regarding the passing of registered Indian status from parents to children. Both parents now must have registered Indian status to pass Indian status on to their children. An exception occurs when at least one parent has been registered under section 6(1) of the legislation. In this case, if one parent is registered under 6(1) and the other parent is not registered, children remain eligible for registration under section 6(2). However, a parent registered under 6(2) can not pass registered Indian status to a child unless the other parent is also a status Indian.

For more information, see the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada website at:

Majority of First Nations people live in Ontario and western provinces

Ontario and the western provinces combined accounted for an estimated 577,300 First Nations people, or four-fifths (83%) of this group's total population.4

About 158,395 First Nations people (23%) lived in Ontario; 129,580 (19%) lived in British Columbia; 100,645 (14%), in Manitoba; 97,275 (14%), in Alberta; and 91,400 (13%), in Saskatchewan.

Despite the large populations in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, First Nations people accounted for only 3% or less of the respective provincial populations. In contrast, First Nations people represented three out of every 10 persons living in the Northwest Territories, two in 10 in the Yukon Territory and about one in 10 in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Figure 6 Percentage of First Nations people in the population, Canada, provinces and territories, 2006

Number of First Nations recognized by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC)

In 2006, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) recognized 615 First Nations communities in Canada. British Columbia was home to 198 First Nations, about one-third of all First Nations, while there were 126 in Ontario. Together, these two provinces represented just over half (53%) of all the First Nations communities in Canada.

Another 39% were found in five jurisdictions: Saskatchewan, where there were 70, Manitoba (63), Alberta (44), Quebec (39) and the Northwest Territories (26). There were fewer than 20 First Nations in each of the remaining provinces and in the Yukon Territory. There were none in Nunavut.


  1. Respondents self-identified as 'North American Indian;' however, the term 'First Nations people' is used throughout this report. Although both single and multiple responses to the Aboriginal identity question are possible, only the population reporting a single response of 'North American Indian' is included.
  2. Data showing changes in percentages and proportions between 2006 and past census years have been adjusted to account for incompletely enumerated reserves.
  3. Source: 'An Evolving Terminology Relating to Aboriginal Peoples in Canada' produced by the Communications Branch of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, October 2002.
  4. It should be noted that 17 of the 22 incompletely enumerated Indian reserves in 2006 were located in Ontario and Quebec. Of the remainder, three were in Alberta, one was in Saskatchewan and one in British Columbia.

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