B.C. Business Matters:
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BC’s Aboriginal Population: Growing Opportunity
According to fresh census numbers, Canada’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit population continues to increase at a pace that significantly exceeds the overall population growth rate. Since 2006, the national Aboriginal population has risen by a remarkable 42.5%, outrunning the growth of the non-Aboriginal population nearly four times over (10.9%). The 2016 census counted 1.67 million Aboriginal people in Canada—representing 4.9% of the population. This figure is up from 3.8% in 2006. Natural growth is being fueled by higher fertility rates, longer life expectancy, and an increase in the number of respondents self-identifying as Aboriginal.
In BC, growth figures mirror the national trends: the province’s non-Aboriginal population grew 12.5% over ten years, while the Aboriginal population expanded by 38.5%. The 2016 census also shows that BC is home to 270,585 self-identifying Aboriginal peoples, amounting to almost 6% of the total population. Ten years ago, Aboriginal people made up 4.8% of the province’s population. The status and non-status First Nation population rose to 172,520 in 2016, up by 33.6% in the last ten years. First Nations are the largest group of Aboriginal peoples in BC, making up 63.8% of the total Aboriginal population. Of all First Nations people in BC, 72.8% had Registered or Treaty Indian status as of 2016. Of the 125,635 status First Nations, 40.1% lived on-reserve, while the rest lived off-reserve.
The Métis are the fastest growing sub-segment of Aboriginal peoples in BC, doubling to 89,405 between 2006 and 2016. Métis make up one-third of the total Aboriginal population, and 2% of the overall provincial population. And while BC does not have a large Inuit population (0.6%), this group expanded from 790 to 1615 persons in a decade. The remaining 2.6% of the Aboriginal population reported belonging to multiple Aboriginal identities.
Nearly a third (30.3%) of Aboriginal peoples in BC reside in rural areas, more than double the proportion of the non-Aboriginal population. Metro Vancouver is home to the largest Aboriginal population (61,455), followed by Victoria (17,245) and Prince George (12,395).
Of concern, the 2016 data highlight major socio-economic gaps relative to the non-Aboriginal population, including sub-standard housing conditions and rising numbers of children in care. But the data also show some positive trends: a young and better-educated Aboriginal population. The Aboriginal population in BC is young with an average age of 33, compared to 42 years for the non-Aboriginal population. With a provincial population that is growing grey, policymakers need to ensure Aboriginal peoples are able to pursue the full array of opportunities in the economy.
The Business Council of BC is committed to advancing reconciliation and full economic participation. In September 2016, the BC Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN) and the Business Council signed a Memorandum of Understanding committing both organizations to work together to eliminate societal gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, and to advance reconciliation through sustainable economic development. Our joint initiatives include the Champion’s Table, a group of 11 Chiefs and 11 senior business leaders working together to develop a framework for economic reconciliation. In partnership with Vancouver Island University, the Business Council and the BCAFN have also launched the Indigenous Intern Leadership Program. The program is designed to provide recent graduates with work-integrated learning experience, grow future business and community leaders, and increase capacity in Indigenous communities.
 The term Aboriginal refers to a Census respondent who identifies with the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. This includes those who are First Nations (North American Indian), Métis or Inuk (Inuit), as well as those who are Registered or Treaty Indians (that is, registered under the Indian Act of Canada), and/or those who have membership in a First Nation or Indian band. Aboriginal peoples of Canada are defined in the Constitution Act, 1982, Section 35 (2) as including the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada. 2016 Census of Population: Release and Concepts Overview.