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Aboriginal ancestry

Part A - Short definition:

Not applicable

Part B - Detailed definition:

Aboriginal ancestry refers to whether a person reported ancestry associated with the Aboriginal peoples of Canada in the ethnic origin question (Question 17).

Aboriginal peoples of Canada are defined in the Constitution Act, 1982, Section 35 (2) as including the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.

Ancestry refers to the ethnic or cultural origins of the respondent's ancestors, an ancestor being usually more distant than a grandparent. A person can have more than one ethnic or cultural origin.

Reported in:


Reported for:

Population in private households

Question number(s):

Direct variable: Question 17


Information on Aboriginal ancestry is collected in Question 17: Ethnic origin. In Question 17, respondents were asked to specify as many origins (ancestries) as applicable. Four lines were provided for write-in responses and up to six ethnic origins (ancestries) were retained. Aboriginal ancestry responses can be presented in different ways. For one possible presentation, please refer to Appendix 1.2 which provides the complete 2011 National Household Survey classification for ethnic origin.


Aboriginal respondents to the National Household Survey (NHS) received one of two different NHS questionnaires: the NHS N1 or the NHS N2. Persons living on Indian reserves and Indian settlements were enumerated with the 2011 NHS N2 questionnaire.

On both the NHS N1 and N2 questionnaires, the Ethnic origin question asked: 'What were the ethnic or cultural origins of this person's ancestors?' and the following notes were provided:

  • This question collects information on the ancestral origins of the population and provides information about the composition of Canada's diverse population.
  • An ancestor is usually more distant than a grandparent.
  • Specify as many origins as applicable using capital letters.

On the NHS N1 questionnaire, the following examples of ethnic origins were provided:

Canadian, English, French, Chinese, East Indian, Italian, German, Scottish, Irish, Cree, Mi'kmaq, Salish, Métis, Inuit, Filipino, Dutch, Ukrainian, Polish, Portuguese, Greek, Korean, Vietnamese, Jamaican, Jewish, Lebanese, Salvadorean, Somali, Colombian, etc.

On the NHS N2 questionnaire, the list of examples was different:

Cree, Ojibway, Mi'kmaq, Salish, Dene, Blackfoot, Inuit, Métis, Canadian, French, English, German, etc.

Additional instructions were provided to NHS respondents in the 2011 NHS guide:

  • This question refers to the ethnic or cultural origin or origins of a person's ancestors. Other than Aboriginal persons, most people can trace their origins to their ancestors who first came to this continent. Ancestry should not be confused with citizenship or nationality.
  • For all persons, report the specific ethnic or cultural group or groups to which their ancestors belonged, not the language they spoke. For example, report 'Haitian' rather than 'French,' or 'Austrian' rather than 'German.'
  • For persons of East Indian or South Asian origins, report a specific origin or origins. Do not report 'Indian.' For example, report 'East Indian from India,' 'East Indian from Guyana,' or indicate the specific group, such as 'Punjabi' or 'Tamil.'
  • For persons with Aboriginal ancestors, report a specific origin or origins. For example, report 'Cree,' 'Mi'kmaq,' 'Ojibway,' 'Métis,' or 'North American Indian.' Do not report 'Indian.'

Users should be aware that the estimates associated with this variable are more affected than most by the incomplete enumeration of certain Indian reserves and Indian settlements in the National Household Survey (NHS). In 2011, there were a total of 36 Indian reserves and Indian settlements that were 'incompletely enumerated' in the NHS. For these reserves or settlements, NHS enumeration was either not permitted or was interrupted before it could be completed, or was not possible because of natural events (specifically forest fires in Northern Ontario). For additional information, please refer to the Aboriginal Peoples Reference Guide, National Household Survey, 2011.

For additional information on the collection and dissemination of ethnic origin data, refer to the Ethnic Origin Reference Guide, National Household Survey, 2011.

There are different ways to define the Aboriginal population in Canada. The 2011 NHS provides information on Aboriginal ancestry, Aboriginal group, Aboriginal identity, Registered or Treaty Indian status and Membership in a First Nation or Indian band.

For additional information on the collection and dissemination of Aboriginal data, please refer to the Aboriginal Peoples Reference Guide, National Household Survey, 2011 and the Aboriginal Peoples Technical Report, National Household Survey, 2011.

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