Aboriginal people in Canada could number between 1.7 million and 2.2 million in the next 20 years, at a growth rate faster than the non-aboriginal population, Statistics Canada projected Wednesday.

By 2031, aboriginal people would represent between four and 5.3 per cent of the total Canadian population. This is up from the 1.3 million people who identified themselves as aboriginals in 2006, at just 3.9 per cent of the population.

"The North American Indians, the Métis and the Inuit, would continue to grow between now and 2031," the report said. "This growth would occur at a faster pace than for the non-aboriginal population."

The new figures come after the remote James Bay First Nations community, Attawapiskat, declared a state of emergency over substandard housing conditions, with some of its 1,800 residents living in unheated tents and portable trailers.The federal government has since put Attawapiskat under third-party management to oversee spending, but the Northern Ontario community's band leaders have condemned Ottawa's handling of the crisis.

The situation has raised questions about the viability of remote reserves and the relationship between First Nations and the federal government. It has prompted Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo to call for a "reset" and for Ottawa and First Nations to move beyond the Indian act.

The latest numbers from Statistics Canada show that the aboriginal population is expected to grow at an annual rate of 1.1 and 2.2 per cent, faster than the non-aboriginal population growth rate of one per cent.

In 2006, there were 785,000 people in Canada who identified themselves as Indians, 404,000 who were Métis and 53,000 who were Inuit, the report said.

Twenty years from now, Indians would continue to represent the largest proportion, at between 1.1 and 1.2 million. During that same time period, the Métis population could reach between 500,000 and 850,000 people. Meanwhile, the number of Inuit people could reach between 73,000 and 77,000 by 2031, Statistics Canada said.

Larger proportion moving to metropolitan areas

Geographically, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories would be home to the largest proportion of aboriginal people by 2031, at 86 per cent and 52 per cent respectively.

Provincially, Saskatchewan would have the largest proportion of aboriginal people, at between 21 and 24 per cent, Statistics Canada projects. Manitoba would have the second largest proportion, with between 18 and 21 per cent of the population.

But a larger proportion of aboriginal people are choosing to live in metropolitan areas, according to the report.

By 2031, about 36 per cent of the aboriginal population are expected to live in a census metropolitan area (CMA), defined as an area consisting of one or more adjacent municipalities situated around a major urban core. A CMA also has a population of at least 100,000 and an urban core with a population of at least 50,000.

In comparison, just 34 per cent of the aboriginal population chose to live in a census metropolitan area in 2006.

Also, within 20 years, there will be five metropolitan areas where aboriginal people would comprise more than 10 per cent: Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon and Greater Sudbury.

Another shift in the aboriginal population is demographic — by 2031, the median age of the aboriginal population will rise from 26.6 years old in 2006 to between 35 and 36.7 years old.

"Despite this aging, the aboriginal population would continue to be younger than the non-aboriginal population," the report said.

By comparison, the median age for non-aboriginal people is expected to hit 43.1 years old in 2031, up from 39.4 years in 2006.