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1 Concepts and variables

There are various ways to define the Aboriginal population based on the four related questions asked in the National Household Survey (NHS) depending on the focus and the requirements of the data user.

The definitions of NHS terminology, variables and concepts are presented here and appear in the National Household Survey Dictionary, Catalogue 99-000-X. Users should refer to the National Household Survey Dictionary for full definitions and additional remarks related to any concepts, such as information on direct and derived variables and their respective universe.

1.1 Aboriginal concepts

The four questions used on the NHS to identify Aboriginal peoples yield different concepts for defining different Aboriginal populations. Four commonly used concepts include:

  • Aboriginal ancestry
  • Aboriginal identity
  • First Nation/Indian band membership
  • Registered or Treaty Indian status.

The population estimates, at the Canada level, from the 2011 National Household Survey using the different definitions are shown below.

Aboriginal population Population estimate
Aboriginal ancestryFootnote1 1,836,035
Aboriginal identityFootnote2 1,400,685
First Nation/Indian band membership 675,485
Registered or Treaty Indian status 697,505

1.1.1 Aboriginal group (Question 18)

Aboriginal group refers to whether a person belongs to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. In previous censuses, respondents were asked to report if they were an Aboriginal person, that is, First Nations (North American Indian), Métis, or Inuk (Inuit). The 1996 Census was the first census to ask the Aboriginal group question, using the wording: 'Is this person an Aboriginal person, that is, North American Indian, Métis or Inuit (Eskimo)?' This same wording was used in this question on the 2001 and 2006 censuses.

For the 2011 NHS questionnaires (N1 and N2), changes were introduced to the terminology in this question. 'North American Indian' was replaced by 'First Nations (North American Indian)' and 'Inuit (Eskimo)' was replaced by 'Inuk (Inuit)' in both the question and the response categories. An instruction was added 'Note: First Nations (North American Indian) includes Status and Non-Status Indians.' See Figure 1 for the wording of the 2011 NHS Aboriginal group question.

The following information was provided to respondents in the National Household Survey Guide (PDF, 205 Kb).

  • Answer this question regardless of whether or not this person is an Aboriginal person of North America.

  • Aboriginal people are usually those with ancestors who resided in North America prior to European contact and who identify with one of the three Aboriginal groups listed on the questionnaire—First Nations (North American Indian), Métis and Inuit.

  • Persons who consider themselves to be East Indian or Asian Indian, or who have ethnic roots on the subcontinent of India, should respond 'No' to this question.

  • Individuals who refer to themselves as Métis in the context of mixed ancestry, but who do not have North American Aboriginal ancestry—for example, those from Africa, the Caribbean and South America—should respond 'No.'

1.1.2 The 2011 NHS Registered or Treaty Indian status question

Registered or Treaty Indian status refers to whether or not a person reported being a Registered or Treaty Indian. Registered Indian refers to persons who are registered under the Indian Act of Canada. Treaty Indians are persons who belong to a First Nation/Indian band that signed a treaty with the Crown. Registered or Treaty Indians are sometimes also called Status Indians.Footnote3

Data on Registered or Treaty Indian status were first collected in the 1981 Census using response categories in the ethnic origin question. Within the ethnic origin question, mark-in options under a sub-heading for 'Native Peoples' included 'Status or registered Indian' and 'Non-status Indian.'

In the 1986 Census, data were not collected specifically for Registered or Treaty Indian status. That year, the ethnic origin question included a mark-in option for 'North American Indian' that was meant to include both status and non-status Indians together.

In 1991, a new census question on Registered Indians had two components. In the first part of the question, respondents were asked about their registration status, while the second part of the question dealt with band membership. The first part of the 1991 Census registration status question asked 'Is this person a registered Indian as defined by the Indian Act of Canada?'

A change from 1991, the 1996 Census Registered or Treaty Indian status question asked only about registration or treaty status, while band membership was dealt with in a separate question. The 1996 Census question wording, 'Is this person a Treaty Indian or a Registered Indian as defined by the Indian Act of Canada?' differed slightly from the wording used in previous censuses. Prior to 1996, the term 'treaty' was not included in the question. It was added in 1996 at the request of individuals from the Western provinces, where the term was more widely used. This same question was used in the 2001 and 2006 censuses.

In the 2011 NHS question, the term 'Status Indian' was included to clarify the question, since this term is used more extensively than 'Registered or Treaty Indian' across Canada. See Figure 2 for the wording of the 2011 NHS Registered or Treaty Indian status question.

The following information was provided to respondents in the National Household Survey Guide (PDF, 205 Kb).

Select the circle 'Yes, Status Indian (Registered or Treaty)' for persons who:

  • are Registered Indians under the Indian Act
  • are Treaty Indians, only if they are Registered Indians under the Indian Act
  • have become registered since June 1985, when Bill C-31 changed the Indian Act.

All other persons should mark 'No' including persons who may be entitled to register under provisions of the Indian Act, but for some reason have not.

1.1.3 The 2011 NHS First Nation/Indian band membership question

Membership in a First Nation/Indian band refers to whether a person is a member of a First Nation or Indian band of Canada.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) defines a band as a body of Indians for whose collective use and benefit lands have been set apart or money is held by the Crown, or declared to be a band for the purpose of the Indian Act.

Data on Indian band membership were first collected on the 1971 Census. In 1971, data were collected using response categories in the ethnic origin question. Within the ethnic origin question, mark-in options included 'Native Indian – Band' and 'Native Indian – Non-band.' Data were not available from the census on Indian band membership again until 1991.

In 1991, a new census question on membership in a First Nation or Indian band had two components. In the first part of the question, respondents were asked about their registration status, while the second part of the question dealt with band membership.

In 1996, a direct question was developed for the census and asked 'Is this person a member of an Indian Band/First Nation?' This question was placed before the Registered or Treaty Indian status question. The same membership question and the same order of questions were used again in the 2001 and 2006 censuses.

In the 2011 NHS, the terms 'Indian band' and 'First Nation' were reversed from the 2006 Census version of the question, as a result of preferences expressed during testing of the question. The format of the question was comprised of two mark-in circles and a write-in box. There was a mark-in circle for the option 'No,' and a mark-in circle for the option 'Yes, member of a First Nation/Indian band,' followed by a write-in box. This write-in box contained two 11-segment lines for the option 'Specify name of First Nation/Indian band.' on the paper questionnaire, but writing above, between or below the lines was also captured when the questionnaire was scanned. In the Internet version of the question, there was space for 60 letters in the answer. The question also contains three examples of First Nations/Indian bands, one that contains 'Indian band' in the name, one that uses 'First Nation' in the name and one that uses neither. These examples were added because some participants during testing on reserve were answering with the name of their Nation/Tribe rather than the exact name of their First Nation/Indian band. See Figure 3 for the wording of the 2011 NHS First Nation/Indian band membership question.

The following information was provided to respondents in the National Household Survey Guide (PDF, 205 Kb).

  • A First Nation/Indian band is a group of people for whom lands have been set apart and/or money is held by the Crown.

  • A member of a First Nation/Indian band is an individual who is recognized as being a member of a First Nation/Indian band, as defined by either the band itself or the Indian Act.

  • Individuals should report their First Nation/Indian band affiliation rather than their tribal affiliation—for example, 'Chemawawin First Nation Band' instead of 'Cree.'

1.1.4 Aboriginal ancestry (Question 17)

Aboriginal ancestry refers to whether a person reported ancestry associated with the Aboriginal peoples of Canada in the ethnic origin question. Ethnic origin 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.

From 1981 to the present, ethnic origins, including Aboriginal ancestry, have been defined by descent from both the mother's and the father's side. The ethnic origin question has allowed for the reporting of single and multiple responses. See Figure 4 for the wording of the 2011 NHS Ethnic Origin question.

Note that while the ancestry (ethnic origin) question asked in the 2011 National Household N2 questionnaire (Figure 5) used for Aboriginal communities is the same as that asked in the N1 questionnaire for the general population, the list of examples are different. The N2 questionnaire is the Northern and Reserves questionnaire.

The following information was provided to respondents in the National Household Survey Guide (PDF, 205 Kb).

  • 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.'

1.2 Aboriginal variables

1.2.1 Aboriginal identity derived

The derived Aboriginal identity concept refers to those persons who reported identifying with at least one Aboriginal group in Question 18, that is, First Nations (North American Indian), Métis or Inuk (Inuit), and/or those who reported being a Registered/Treaty Indian in Question 20, as defined by the Indian Act of Canada, and/or those who reported they were members of a First Nation/Indian band in Question 21.

The Aboriginal identity population is derived from three questions (Questions 18, 20 and 21).

Included in the derived Aboriginal identity population are the following (see also Figure 6):

  • Total Aboriginal identity population
    • 'First Nations (North American Indian)' single response
    • 'Métis' single response
    • 'Inuk (Inuit)' single response
    • Multiple Aboriginal responses
    • Aboriginal responses not included elsewhere (includes those who reported themselves as being Registered or Treaty Indians and/or First Nations/Indian band members without reporting Aboriginal identity)

1.2.2 Other possible derived variables

It is possible to derive other definitions of the Aboriginal population, using different combinations of NHS questions. For example, the information from Question 18 on Aboriginal group and Question 20 on Registered/Treaty Indian status can be used to derive the First Nations (North American Indian) identity population with Registered or Treaty Indian status.

Other examples are:

  • First Nations (North American Indian) identity population without Registered or Treaty Indian status (non-status)
  • First Nations (North American Indian) identity population with Indian band membership
  • Registered or Treaty Indian population with Indian band membership.

Other combinations of Aboriginal variables that can correspond to users' data needs and purposes are also possible.

1.3 Aboriginal geography variables

1.3.1 Aboriginal area of residence – On reserve

'Area of residence – On reserve' refers to the following geographic areas: Indian reserves and settlements (referred to as 'On reserve'), and all other areas (referred to as 'Off reserve'). These geographic areas can be used to show where people, primarily Registered or Treaty Indians and First Nations people, reside. The 2011 NHS total 'On reserve' population was 360,620, with about nine out of ten being First Nations people.

'On reserve' includes six census subdivision (CSD) types legally affiliated with First Nations or Indian bands, i.e., Indian reserve (IRI), Indian settlement (S-É) (except for the five Yukon settlements of Champagne Landing 10, Klukshu, Two and One-Half Mile Village, Two Mile Village and Kloo Lake), Indian government district (IGD), terres réservées aux Cris (TC), terres réservées aux Naskapis (TK) and Nisga'a land (NL), as well as the northern village of Sandy Bay in Saskatchewan.Footnote4

1.3.2 Inuit area of residence

'Area of residence: Inuit Nunangat' refers to the four regions of Inuit Nunangat and 'outside Inuit Nunangat.'

Inuit Nunangat is the homeland of Inuit of Canada. It includes the communities located in the four Inuit regions: Nunatsiavut (Northern coastal Labrador), Nunavik (Northern Quebec), the territory of Nunavut and the Inuvialuit region of the Northwest Territories. These regions collectively encompass the area traditionally occupied by Inuit in Canada.Footnote5

The 2011 NHS Inuit Nunangat population is 52,115 of which eight in ten are Inuit. In the four regions of Inuit Nunangat, the population breakdown is as follows:

Table 1
Inuit identity population by Inuit area of residence, 2011 NHS

Table 1
Inuit identity population by Inuit area of residence, 2011 National Household Survey
Table summary
Inuit identity population by Inuit area of residence, 2011 National Household Survey
Region Total population Percentage of population with Inuit identity (%)
Source: Statistics Canada, National Household Survey, 2011.
Inuit Nunangat 52,115 83
Nunatsiavut 2,615 89
Nunavik 12,060 89
Nunavut 31,695 85
Inuvialuit region 5,745 58
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