Presentation Notes: Aboriginal Children in Poverty in Urban Communities

March 19, 2003
(posted May 16, 2003)
(revised June 10, 2003)

Note: This presentation was prepared in March 2003. Since that time unpublished data from the latest 2001 Census confirms trends mentioned in these notes by revealing that the median pre-tax income of all persons indicating Aboriginal identity is $13,526, or 61% of median income for all Canadians ($22,120).

Aboriginal Children in Poverty in Urban Communities:
Social exclusion and the growing racialization of poverty in Canada

Notes for Presentation to Subcommittee on Children and Youth at Risk of the
Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities
on Wednesday, March 19th 2003
John Anderson, Canadian Council on Social Development

To situate this crucial issue, I can think of nothing more compelling than to cite the main thesis in a paper entitled “Same Country: Same Lands, 78 Countries Away” by Cindy Blackstock, an Aboriginal activist and executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. In this paper, Ms. Blackstock demonstrates that Canada’s aboriginal peoples would rank 78th on the UNDP’s Human Development Index, while Canada has consistently placed at the top (1-3) of countries on that scale.

1. Aboriginal population is on the rise

  • Over 1.3 million people reported some Aboriginal ancestry in 2001. This was 4.4 % of the total population up from 3.8% in 1996.
  • In 2001, 976,305 persons identified as Aboriginal peoples, 22.2% higher than in 1996, while the Non-Aboriginal population grew by only 3.4% between 1996 and 2001.
  • In 2001, those who identified as Aboriginal persons made up 3.3% of the total population, compared with 2.8% in 1996.

2. Aboriginal peoples are living more and more off reserve

  • Only 31% of Aboriginal people lived on reserves and settlements, down from 33% in 1996.
  • 219,570 of the 286,500 Aboriginal children lived off reserve: 77% of all Aboriginal children between the ages of zero and nine

3. Aboriginal children are living more and more in cities

  • In 2001, 49% of the Aboriginal population lived in urban areas, up from 47% in 1996.
  • One-quarter of the Aboriginal population lived in 10 metropolitan areas
  • In order, the cities with the largest aboriginal populations were Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Saskatoon, Regina, Ottawa-Hull (now known as Ottawa-Gatineau), Montréal and Victoria.
  • There were 55,755 Aboriginal people in Winnipeg in 2001, up from 45,750 in 1996, and comprising 8% of Winnipeg’s total population.
  • In 2001 Saskatoon held the highest concentration of Aboriginal inhabitants in the CMAs, with 20,275 Aboriginal people, or 9%.
  • In Prince Albert, Aboriginal people accounted for 29% of total population.

4. Aboriginal population is much younger than the Canadian average

  • The median age of Canada's Aboriginal population was 24.7 years in 2001, compared to 37.7 years for Canada’s non-Aboriginal population.
  • Children aged 14 and under were one-third of the Aboriginal population, compared to 19% in the non-Aboriginal population in 2001.
  • The Aboriginal population was 3.3% of Canada's total but Aboriginal children were 5.6% of all children in Canada.
  • Aboriginal people in Nunavut had a median age of only 19.1; in Saskatchewan 20.1; in Manitoba, 22.8.
  • Children aged 14 and under were one-third of the Aboriginal population in 2001, far higher than the corresponding share of 19% in the non-Aboriginal population.
  • Although the Aboriginal population accounted for only 3.3% of Canada's total population, Aboriginal children represented 5.6% of all children in Canada.
  • Although the share of the total Aboriginal population in Saskatchewan and Manitoba was relatively large - 14% in each of these provinces - the proportion of children, at about 25% and 23% respectively, was much larger.

5. More Aboriginal children live in poverty

  • In Urban Poverty in Canada: A Statistical Profile (CCSD, 2000), evidence from 1996 Census data showed that Aboriginal peoples in urban areas were more than twice as likely to live in poverty as non-Aboriginal people.
  • On average, 55.6% of Aboriginal people living in Canadian cities were poor in 1995 – this ranged from 41% in Burnaby to 66% in Vancouver.
  • Although Aboriginal people accounted for a very small proportion in most of the cities included in the study (1.5%), the average proportion of poor people who were Aboriginal was 3.4%.
  • In cities like Regina where there is a larger Aboriginal population, Aboriginal people accounted for 24% of the poor. This was more than three times their proportion of the total population in that city. Several factors can explain this high incidence of poverty among Aboriginal people, including significant barriers in education and employment opportunities.


The table is from “Putting Promises into Action”, Campaign 2000, May 2002, for the UN Special Session on Children. Statistics Canada Census 1996, custom tabulation for Canadian Council on Social Development. Aboriginal refers to those persons who identified themselves with being North American Indian, Métis or Inuit. Visible minority persons are defined under the Employment Equity Act (1986) as those (other than Aboriginal persons) who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour. Persons with disabilities are identified based on their responses to questions regarding their activity limitations or disabilities

  • 52.1% of all aboriginal children were poor, the highest rate of the three equity groups above.
  • Aboriginal people had a disability rate that was more than twice the national average.
  • Aboriginal children were four times more likely to be hungry
  • Aboriginal Children had more health problems
  • Will there be a rise of high-poverty urban Aboriginal neighbourhoods? The answer is, if we do nothing …yes
  • Already Winnipeg has high Aboriginal populations in some distressed neighbourhoods (Michael Hatfield, Concentrations of Poverty and Distressed Neighbourhoods in Canada, HRDC, 1997)

6. More Aboriginal children are living in lone parent families

  • Fewer Aboriginal children aged 14 and under lived with two parents in 2001 than did non-Aboriginal children.
  • 32% of Aboriginal children living on reserves, and 46% of Aboriginal children in the census metropolitan areas, lived with a lone parent.
  • Only 17% of non-Aboriginal children lived with a lone parent
  • Twice the proportion of Aboriginal children lived with a lone parent in 2001 as did non-Aboriginal children.
  • 5% of Aboriginals living in large urban areas lived with a relative other than their parent(s), or lived with a non-relative.
  • 0.6% of non-Aboriginal children lived in this situation.

7. Mobility effects

  • Some 35% of aboriginal children--that is, one in three-- moved in the 12-month period prior to 2001.
  • 22% of Aboriginal people moved, compared with only 14% of non-Aboriginal people.
  • About two thirds moved within the same community.

8. Aboriginal youth are now and in the future going to enter the labour market in very large numbers

  • Aboriginal people will soon make up a sizable part of the labour force particularly in Western Canada
  • In 2001, Aboriginal Youth 15-24 were twice as likely to be unemployed
  • We know that “Canada’s Creeping Economic Apartheid” (the title of a 2001 study on the racialization of economic inequity and poverty for visible minorities) also exists for Aboriginal peoples.
  • In 1996 75% of Aboriginal youth had incomes below $10,000 compared to 69% of non-Aboriginal people.
  • In 1995 46% of all Aboriginal peoples had incomes below $10,000 compared to 27% of Non-Aboriginal people

9. Education a key to social and economic progress

  • In 2001 only 8% of the 25-34 age group of Aboriginal peoples had a completed university degree, while 28% of all Canadians did.
  • In 1996, 68% of Aboriginal youth were in school compared to 83% of non-Aboriginal youth.
  • only 24% of Aboriginal peoples under 25 were able to converse in an Aboriginal language


1. Need for an effective anti-poverty strategy

In our brief on the Social Union (SUFA) review we called for:

  • A national day care strategy inspired by the Quebec model;
  • A national initiative to raise the minimum wage in all jurisdictions above the poverty line;
  • A national welfare standard which is above the poverty line;
  • An effective strategy for ensuring full access to comprehensive disability supports;
  • An enriched National Child Tax Benefit with assurances that all welfare families are eligible;
  • Elimination of Interprovincial residency requirements and fee differentials for long-term care, all health procedures, post-secondary education, and other services;
  • A co-ordinated strategy to build low-income housing and end homelessness;
  • Realisation of food security for all in Canada, and a substantial reduction in the rate and depth of poverty

These policies are particularly needed for Urban Aboriginal people and Aboriginal children. Since that time we have also looked at the need for strong work place components such as extending pay equity to all four equity groups.

2. In addition to these general proposals we need a specific Urban Aboriginal Anti-poverty Strategy

This must involve a partnership of federal, provincial, municipal and territorial governments with Aboriginal governments and native organizations, such as friendship centres, child welfare agencies, native health centres, non-profit housing, with these Aboriginal organizations taking the leading role.

3. Aboriginal Urban Child Poverty issues need sufficient, regular and increased funding. One part of the solution could be a dedicated part of the new Social Transfer to Aboriginal urban issues.

  1. There is a need for sufficient, regular and increasing funding and more funding spent on urban Aboriginal needs. A good example of this is the commitment by Health Canada, Human Resources Development Canada, and the Department of Indian Affairs of $161 million to Aboriginal children in 2001 and 2002 (of this, $138 million was dedicated to on-reserve activities).
  2. Need for clear targeting of funds: the $17 million for urban Aboriginal issues in the last budget was clearly not enough.
  3. Need to work with all levels of government and develop the inclusion of Aboriginal governments and organizations in the process.
  4. One way of doing this is to make the Social Transfer, transparent, dedicated and accountable (in the same way as the Health Transfer is now becoming) and as a part of this transfer include funds for Urban Aboriginal issues.


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