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

Fewer First Nations people live on reserve than off reserve

A smaller proportion of First Nations people lived on reserve than off reserve. In 2006, an estimated 40% lived on reserve, while the remaining 60% lived off reserve. The off-reserve proportion was up slightly from 58% in 1996. The vast majority of the First Nations people living on reserve in 2006, 98%, were Status Indians.

Figure 7 Percentage of First Nations people living on and off reserve, Canada, 1996 and 2006

Although men and women were equally likely to be registered under the Indian Act, First Nations women with registered status were somewhat more likely to live off reserve. In 2006, 50% of Status First Nations women lived off reserve, compared with 45% of their male counterparts.

Among off-reserve First Nations people, 68% were Status Indians, while the remaining 32% were non-Status Indians.

In Ontario, the province with the largest number of First Nations people, 70% lived off reserve, followed by British Columbia (62%) and Alberta (59%). The figures were closer to half in Saskatchewan (48%) and Manitoba (45%).

About half of the First Nations population also lived off reserve in Quebec (49%), New Brunswick (44%) and Nova Scotia (48%), while the figure was about eight in ten in Newfoundland and Labrador (82%) and close to seven in 10 in Prince Edward Island (68%).

Off-reserve population most likely to live in census metropolitan areas

Censuses in both 1996 and 2006 found that about three out of every four people (76%) in the off-reserve First Nations population lived in urban areas. In contrast, 81% of non-Aboriginal people were urban dwellers in 2006, up slightly from 78% a decade earlier. (Urban areas include large cities, or census metropolitan areas, and smaller urban centres.)

In 2006, nearly half (47%) of off-reserve First Nations people lived in census metropolitan areas, while 31% lived in small urban centres and 21%, in rural areas.

An estimated 149,350 people, or 21% of the First Nations population, lived in 10 of the nation's 33 census metropolitan areas in 2006. Winnipeg counted 25,900, the largest number, followed by Vancouver (23,515), Edmonton (22,440) and Toronto (17,275). Other census metropolitan areas with a large First Nations population were Saskatoon (11,510), Calgary (10,875), Ottawa ‑ Gatineau (10,790), Montréal (10,130), Regina (9,495) and Thunder Bay (7,420).

However, First Nations people did not make up large shares of the population in these urban centres. For example, they accounted for 4% of Winnipeg's population, 2% of Edmonton's, and 1% of the population in Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa - Gatineau.

Figure 8 Top 10 census metropolitan areas with the largest number of First Nations people, 2006

On the other hand, First Nations people made up a considerable share of the population in several smaller urban areas in the West. They represented 32% of the population in Prince Rupert, British Columbia; 24% in Thompson, Manitoba; 17% in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan; and 16% in Terrace, British Columbia. They also accounted for 21% of the population in La Tuque, Quebec.

Table 18 Urban centres where First Nations people accounted for at least 10% of the population, 2006

First Nations people more likely to move than non-Aboriginal population

Eight out of 10 First Nations people (81%) lived at the same address in 2006 as they did one year before the census. This compares with 86% of the non-Aboriginal population. The First Nations population is slightly more likely than non-Aboriginal people to have either moved within the same census subdivision1 (11% versus 8%) or to have relocated to their current address from another community (8% versus 5%).

Although some First Nations people may move back and forth to the reserve, census data on net migration are not included in this report.


  1. A census subdivision (CSD) is an area that is a municipality or an area that is deemed to be equivalent to a municipality for statistical reporting purposes (e.g., an Indian reserve or an unorganized territory). Municipal status is defined by laws in effect in each province and territory in Canada. A CSD is also referred to as a community in this report.

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