Definition of Aboriginal Identity Reflects Maturing Society

by William Warren Munroe

Article written for the Beacon, February 2008

Statistics Canada recently released data on Aboriginal peoples from the 2006 Census. What does the change in the number of Aboriginal peoples tell us about our communities?

The number of people filling out the long census form, (every fifth household - often referred to as the 20 percent sample), identified as Aboriginal, including North American Indian, Métis (French for mixed bloods), and Inuit has been increasing rapidly since the 1996 census. The strongest growth is in the number of Métis with a 91% increase to 2006.

The 2006 census found that the Parksville CA had the lowest absolute number as well as the lowest percent of the total population to identify themselves as Aboriginal of all the BC Census Agglomerations (municipalities including unorganized areas that are socially and economically integrated with a population of at least 10,000 people); however, the Parksville CA also had the largest percent increase in people identifying themselves as Aboriginal in BC between 2001 and 2006. In the Parksville CA, those identifying themselves as Métis increased by 90% during this time period. The two areas with the highest increases in Métis were the Chilliwack and Campbell River CAs. On the island, only the Port Alberni CA experienced a very modest decline in Aboriginals. The median age of Aboriginals is lower than the non-Aboriginal population, but perhaps, not surprisingly, the Parksville CA has the highest percent (20%) of Aboriginals 55 years of age and older of all the CAs in BC.

There have been many ideas offered to try to explain why more people are counted as Aboriginal. These include higher birth rates, more reserves allowing enumerators in to count people, and more people willing to identify themselves as Aboriginal. As stated by Trevor Gladue, the vice-president of the Métis Nation of Alberta, "There was a time when admitting your aboriginal ancestry was not a good thing to do, when it came to going to school or getting a job."

Also, prior to the 2001 census, the census enumerator determined whether a person was to be counted as Aboriginal or not. The enumerator was to answer the census question "Is this person an Aboriginal person, that is, an North American Indian, Métis or Inuit (Eskimo)?"(Statistics Canada Long form question 18) Thus, people who may have identified themselves as Aboriginal, may not have been counted as such. Also, more people realize that the term Métis need not only refer to the Red River Métis, says Chris Andersen a professor of Native Studies, but rather that "it [the term Métis] refers to all mixed aboriginal/non-aboriginal people who don't identify as First Nations." Indeed, the number of Aboriginals was likely under counted in previous censuses.

This changing attitude should reflect a greater acceptance of difference, with less emphasis in the work place on ancestry and more on merit. Perhaps those who identify themselves as mixed aboriginal/non-aboriginal people will soon be treated equally with other Canadians without fear of discrimination.

The recent increases in the number of people identifying themselves as Aboriginal must not result in increased intimidation. Rather, the conciliatory and accepting ways of Canadians, by including all peoples, must be reflected throughout our society. This is an opportunity to make improvements to work environments, where inclusion, understanding, and acceptance of differences revitalizes our communities and our country.

William Munroe is a migration analyst who has worked with Stats Canada and BC Stats. He worked for BC Stats of the Ministry of Labour and Citizen's Services from 2002 to 2006 as the provincial expert on migration for BC municipalities, Regional Districts, Economic Regions, Local Health Areas, including Micro Health Areas such as Vancouver's West End and the Downtown eastside, Health Regions, School Districts, and Provincial Electoral Districts. He was forced to leave the position after insisting that methods papers be published. William owns the data management software development company, wminfomatics.