Indigenous population in Edmonton area continues to grow, Statistics Canada says
Indigenous people now make up more than 6 per cent of capital region's population
The Indigenous population in the Edmonton area continues to grow at one of the highest rates in Canada, new data from Statistics Canada shows.
Newly released figures also show that Indigenous people living in Alberta earn less on average than non-Indigenous people, and that Indigenous people are more likely than non-Indigenous people to live in unsuitable housing.
"Our band members are band members wherever they reside," said George Arcand Jr., grand chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations. Edmonton is on Treaty 6 territory.
"If I have members living in Edmonton, we have a responsibility to try to ensure that their lifestyle is maintained and that we can speak for them also."
Statistics Canada recently released more 2021 census of population data that, in part, focused on Indigenous peoples — people who identify as First Nations, Métis and/or Inuk, registered or Treaty Indians, and/or those who have membership in a First Nation or Indian band.
In 2021, about 87,600 Indigenous people were living in the Edmonton census metropolitan area, an increase of about 11,400 — or 15 per cent — over 2016.
Indigenous people now make up about 6.2 per cent of the roughly 1.42 million total people living in the Edmonton census metropolitan area, which is made up of 34 communities including Edmonton, Strathcona County, St. Albert, Spruce Grove, Leduc, Parkland County, Fort Saskatchewan, Beaumont and Sturgeon County.
In 2016, Indigenous people made up about 5.8 per cent of the area's population.
An increasing number of Indigenous people moving to Edmonton may be due, at least in part, to economic opportunities, said Arcand Jr., who is also chief of Alexander First Nation, about 45 kilometres northwest of the city.
Some people, however, may be moving to be closer to better services for things such as mental health, he added.
The City of Edmonton expects the Indigenous population to continue growing, as more people move to urban centres to pursue education, employment and access various services and amenities, a city spokesperson told CBC News.
The city is focused on further strengthening its relationships with Indigenous peoples, the spokesperson added.
Only Winnipeg has a higher urban Indigenous population than Edmonton. In 2021, about 102,000 Indigenous people were living in the Manitoba capital's metro area, up by more than 9,200 from 2016. The total population of the Winnipeg census metropolitan area is about 835,000.
The second-highest growing urban Indigenous population in Canada between 2016 and 2021 was that of Montreal. Nearly 46,100 Indigenous people were living in the Montreal area in 2021, an increase of about 11,300 — about 30 per cent — from 2016. Nearly 4.3 million people overall live in the Montreal metro area.
Meanwhile, about 7,000 more Indigenous people were living in the Calgary area last year compared to 2016. The Calgary metro area, which is made up nine communities and has a population of about 1.48 million, had the fourth-highest Indigenous population in the country in 2021, at 48,600.
Growing Indigenous population in Alberta
The Indigenous population in Alberta grew at twice the rate as the province's total population over the last five years.
Alberta's population grew by five per cent in five years, from about 3.98 million people living in private households in 2016 to about 4.18 million people in 2021.
The number of Indigenous people in the province grew by 10 per cent over the same period, from 258,600 to 284,500.
Indigenous people make up nearly seven per cent of Alberta's total population.
Most Indigenous people in Alberta, which has the third-largest Indigenous population in Canada, identify as First Nations or Métis. About one per cent — roughly 2,950 people — identify as Inuk, data shows.
Alberta's total population and the Indigenous population each grew more slowly from 2016 to 2021 than during previous census periods. But the latest figures show the continuation of a trend that has been going on for years.
Cora Voyageur, a University of Calgary sociology professor, listed several reasons why the number of Indigenous people has grown at a faster rate than the total population, such as higher birth rates and people living longer.
But Voyageur, a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in northeastern Alberta, said part of the increase could be due to more people either discovering they are Métis, or opening up about their identity.
"For the longest time, and still now to some degree... life can be harder if you are an Indigenous person in Canada, due to racism," she said.
About one in five Métis people in Canada live in Alberta. The number of Métis people in Alberta has nearly doubled since 2001, data shows.
Income, housing discrepancies
The average Indigenous person living in Alberta is bringing home thousands of dollars more than they were in 2016 — but they're still making significantly less than the average non-Indigenous Albertan.
The median after-tax income for non-Indigenous Albertans was about $40,800 after taxes in 2021, up about $2,200 from 2016.
For Indigenous people in Alberta overall, the median after-tax income in 2021 was $34,400, up about $6,500 from 2016.
The disparity is even greater for Indigenous people living on reserve in Alberta, whose median after-tax income in 2021 was $26,400, an increase of about $9,350 from five years ago.
Additionally, the proportion of Indigenous people in Alberta who are considered low-income is double that of non-Indigenous people.
Families and individuals meet Statistics Canada's low-income thresholds if they spend at least 20 percentage points or more of their after-tax income than average on food, shelter and clothing. The thresholds vary based on family size and the size of the community in which they live.
Data shows 17.1 per cent of Indigenous people in the province are low-income after taxes, compared to 8.6 per cent of non-Indigenous Albertans.
It's a similar story when it comes to housing.
The federal government's national occupancy standard lays out criteria that determine whether a household is considered suitable accommodation, such as a maximum of two people per bedroom. The standard, along with other metrics, is used to help determine if a household is in core housing need.
In 2021, nearly 16 per cent of Indigenous people in Alberta lived in housing that was deemed not suitable — overcrowded — compared to about eight per cent of non-Indigenous people, according to Statistics Canada.
Nearly one in three Indigenous people in Alberta live in a dwelling in need of minor repairs, such as missing or loose floor tiles, bricks or shingles, or defective steps or siding.
About 15 per cent of Indigenous people in the province live in a home in need of major repairs, such as defective plumbing or electrical wiring and structural repairs to walls, floors, or ceilings.
In comparison, about one in four non-Indigenous Albertans live in a dwelling that needs minor repairs and nearly five per cent live in a home in need of major repairs.
Part of the overcrowded housing could be due to family structure, Voyageur said, as it is not uncommon for multiple generations to live under one roof.
"You're less likely to have a nuclear family in the Indigenous community than you are in mainstream society," she said.
Multi-generational households could also be related to the cost of living, she added. Grandparents, for example, could be looking after children while the parents are at work.
But the lack of housing on reserve could also be playing a part, Voyageur said.
"There are long, long waiting lists for houses on the reserve," she said, adding that there are few apartment complexes, if any, on many reserves — although more are being built.
Arcand Jr. said Alexander First Nation is currently short about 300 to 350 homes.
"Our ability to provide proper housing for all of our people, it's always a challenge — and we'll continue to deal with that over time," he said.
As the First Nation gets more resources and business opportunities, it will build more infrastructure, he said.
In the meantime, though, as more people move from First Nations to municipalities such as Edmonton, Arcand Jr. says it's crucial for Indigenous people to be involved when finding solutions to issues such as poverty and housing.
Including Indigenous leaders and communities could encourage a different way of doing things, he said.
He added that the Alberta government and the City of Edmonton seem open to having those types of conversations.
The City of Edmonton is committed to addressing issues of housing need and homelessness experienced by Indigenous people in the city, a spokesperson said.
There has been collaboration with Indigenous people and organizations on multiple projects and initiatives, such as the creation of an Indigenous affordable housing strategy, the spokesperson said.
The city has also identified "extensive funding opportunities" for Indigenous affordable housing projects at the federal and provincial levels, the spokesperson said.