Aboriginal Peoples of Canada: Some Background Information

Aboriginal peoples across North America share a common history of colonization and assimilation that spans many generations, and reclaiming cultural and political autonomy in the face of lingering prejudice is a complex and ongoing process.  Within Canada, “Aboriginal” is a legal designation that includes First Nations, Inuit and Métis (those of shared First Nations and European heritage), encompassing more than 600 bands and governments, and representing over 65 distinct languages and dialects.  Together they comprise just under 5% of the Canadian population, and are the fastest growing demographic in the country.  Between 1996 and 2006, the Aboriginal population of Canada grew by 45% (compared with 8% for the non-Aboriginal population), and 48% of Aboriginal people in Canada are less than 25 years old (compared to 31% of non-Aboriginals).  Between 2001 and 2026, the population of Aboriginals between 15 and 29 is projected to grow by 37% compared with 6% for the general Canadian population (Statistics Canada).

This reality, coupled with a drive in recent decades to assert Aboriginal rights, has lead to progress in redefining the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal governments.  In particular, 1999 was a significant year that saw the establishment of the Territory of Nunavut as a homeland for the Inuit, as well as the signing of the Nisga’a Treaty, which was the first land-claim settlement between a First Nation and the government of British Columbia since 1899.

While these landmark agreements capture the headlines, there are a number of trends that are less publicized but of arguably greater importance for the Aboriginal population in general.  Aboriginals are increasingly moving from reserves on traditional territory to larger urban centers, but the transition can be challenging.  Close to 70% of Aboriginals in Canada now live off reserve, and 55-60% of Aboriginals live in urban areas (Statistics Canada).  Unemployment and incarceration rates are dramatically higher than that of the general population, especially within the 15-25 year old age group, and are compounded by levels of education well below the national average.  These factors underline the urgency of finding ways to address the legacy of the past and move towards a more respectful future.

While Aboriginals make up some 5% of Canada‘s population, they represent an estimated 40% of children living in foster care (Farris-Manning and Zandstra 2003).  Today there are over 23 delegated Aboriginal organizations for child and family services in the province of BC alone, 21 of which are “land-based,” serving a particular Aboriginal community or region rather than a given urban environment.  Surrounded By Cedar in Victoria, and Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society (VACFSS) are the two urban exceptions.  In the City of Vancouver, VACFSS works to deliver holistic services that culturally and spiritually strengthen Aboriginal families within the Vancouver metropolitan area.  In this context, initiatives such as the Culturally Relevant Urban Wellness Program (CRUW) are an essential part of supporting the urbanization process.  By facilitating inter-Aboriginal as well as Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal communication, learning and exchange the program seeks to encourage a stronger sense of self among participating youth, as well promoting healthy life skills.

Through its partnership with the Institute for Aboriginal Health at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Pacific Community Resource Society (PCRS), and the UBC Farm, VACFSS has launched CRUW within a context of capacity building through community partnerships.  Within the strength of these partnerships, CRUW brings together youth from a variety of nationalities in a friendly and collaborative environment.  Partially in recognition of this inclusive approach, CRUW was awarded a Service & Innovation grant from Community Action Initiative.  These funds have gone towards supporting a variety of educational sessions at the Institute of Aboriginal Health’s teaching and research garden at the UBC Farm.  The program has also enjoyed ongoing success due to continued support through the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity (AC4) at the Earth Institute at Columbia University.  Over the course of the 7 month program, youth have had an opportunity to learn and internalize traditional Aboriginal knowledge in a context appropriate for the contemporary urban environment.  Laying the groundwork for a healthier relationship between traditional culture and urban life is one of CRUW’s primary objectives, and must be a vital part of any strategy that seeks to address the ongoing challenges in today’s urban Aboriginal community.



Farris-Manning and Zandstra (2003). Children in Care in Canada: a Summary of Current Issues and Trends with Recommendations for Future Research. Ottawa: Child Welfare League of Canada.

Statistics Canada (2006). Community Profiles and statistics on Aboriginal Peoples

Get our newsletter

I'd like to get more stories like this.
Email address
Secure and Spam free...

Submit Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *