First Nations, Métis and Inuit Women

by Paula Arriagada

Release date: February 23, 2016

Introduction

Aboriginal women share some of the same demographic and socioeconomic characteristics as other women in Canada; however, there are also many important differences.  Generally speaking, Aboriginal people in Canada are defined as three unique and distinct groups: First Nations (North American Indian), Métis and Inuit. This chapter will examine some of the demographic, cultural, and socioeconomic characteristics of the Aboriginal female population.

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Aboriginal identity definition

There are many ways to define the Aboriginal population based on the four related questions asked in the National Household Survey (NHS) and previously in the Census of Population: Aboriginal ancestry (ethnic origin); Aboriginal identity; Registered or Treaty Indian status; and Membership in a First Nation/Indian band.

This chapter focuses on the Aboriginal identity population which refers to whether a person reported being an Aboriginal person; that is, First Nations (North American Indian), Métis, or Inuk (Inuit) and/or being a Registered or Treaty Indian and/or being member of a First Nation/Indian band. Data throughout the chapter are presented for each of the three Aboriginal identity groups, First Nations, Métis and Inuit. In some instances, data are also presented for First Nations people with registered Indian status (Status Indians) as well as First Nations people without registered Indian status (Non-Status Indians).Note 1

Registered Indians are persons who are registered under the Indian Act of Canada. Because registered Indian status is a legal concept, the number of individuals with registered Indian status has been affected by changes to legislation.  For additional information on acts and agreements that affect the Registered Indian population, please refer to Appendix A at the end of this document. This appendix also presents a profile of the female Aboriginal population using Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada’s definition which focuses on the total Registered Indian population followed by Aboriginal identity groups of the non-registered population.

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Aboriginal females make up four percent of total female population in Canada

According to data from the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), there were 718,500 Aboriginal women and girls in Canada who made up 4% of the total female population in Canada.Note 2 Of the women and girls who identified themselves as an Aboriginal person, six-in-ten (61%) reported being First NationsNote 3 (46% reported being First Nations with registered Indian status while 15% reported being First Nations with no registered Indian status); almost a third (32%) identified as Métis, and 4% reported Inuit identity.Note 4 An additional 1% reported multiple Aboriginal identities while 2% did not identify with an Aboriginal group but reported having registered Indian status and/or being a member of an Indian band (Table 1).

As seen in Table 1, the distribution by Aboriginal identity groups among the female Aboriginal population was similar to that of Aboriginal males in 2011.  Additionally, as with the total population in Canada, women and girls made up the slight majority (51%) of Aboriginal people in Canada.

A growing population

The Aboriginal female population grew by 20% between 2006 and 2011,Note 5 compared with 5% for the non-Aboriginal female population. Specifically, population growth was highest among First Nations (+23%) females, followed by Inuit (+18%), and Métis (+17%) females. Moreover, between 2006 and 2011, the number of First Nations females with registered Indian status grew by 14% while the number of First Nations females without registered Indian status increased by 62%. 

The more rapid growth for the Aboriginal female population compared to their non-Aboriginal counterparts is attributed in part to higher fertility and intragenerational ethnic mobility.Note 6 According to all scenarios of the most recent Aboriginal population projections, the number of Aboriginal women and girls will continue to increase.Note 7 Specifically, the female Aboriginal population in Canada could increase to between 987,000 and 1,316,000 by 2036.Note 8

Under the different projection scenarios, by the year 2036, the First Nations female population would increase to between 630,000 and 801,000. Moreover, the Métis female population could range from 286,000 to 437,000 in 2036 while the Inuit female population would reach between 43,000 and 48,000 in the same period.Note 9

Fertility rates remain higher for Aboriginal women compared to non-Aboriginal women

The fertility rates of Aboriginal people remain higher than that of the non-Aboriginal population, although the rates vary from one Aboriginal group to another. In 2011, the total fertility rate of Aboriginal women was 2.2 children per woman, compared with 1.6 children per woman for the non-Aboriginal population. Among the three Aboriginal groups, Inuit women and First Nations women had the highest fertility rates, at 2.7 children per woman and 2.4 children, respectively. Furthermore, the total fertility rate of First Nations women is higher for those with registered Indian status at 2.7 children per woman compared with 1.5 children per woman for their counterparts without registered Indian status. The total fertility rate of Métis women was slightly higher than that of the non-Aboriginal population, at 1.8 children per woman.Note 10

Research using the 2006 Census has also shown that the proportion of young women who become teen mothers is significantly higher among Aboriginal women than non-Aboriginal women.Note 11 Specifically, less than 6% of non-Aboriginal women aged 25 to 29 became mothers before the age of 20, while more than three times as many First Nations women became mothers in their teens. Results from this research also reveal that teenager mothers are less likely to graduate high school, more likely to live in overcrowded housing, and in homes in need of major repairs.

Manitoba and Saskatchewan are the provinces with the largest shares of Aboriginal females

Aboriginal women and girls lived throughout the country but they represent larger shares of the total female population in some areas. Among the provinces, Manitoba and Saskatchewan had the largest shares of females with an Aboriginal identity in 2011. For example, in Manitoba, 17% of the total female population was comprised of Aboriginal females while in Saskatchewan, the figure was 16% (Table 2).  They were followed by Newfoundland and Labrador (7%), Alberta (6%), and British Columbia (5%) while the figures were 4% in Nova Scotia and 3% or less in the remaining provinces.

In 2011, Aboriginal females made up much larger shares of the female population living in the territories. In Nunavut, 87% of females reported an Aboriginal identity, (the majority identified as Inuit; only about 1% reported a First Nations or Métis identity). In the Northwest Territories, more than half (54%) of females reported an Aboriginal identity while the percentage was 25% in Yukon (Table 2).

In terms of absolute numbers, Ontario was home to the largest share of the total population of Aboriginal females in 2011. Specifically, 22% or 156,405 of all Aboriginal females in the country lived in Ontario while 17% lived in British Columbia, 16% lived in Alberta, 14% in Manitoba, followed by Saskatchewan (11%), and Quebec (10%).  Among Inuit females, the largest share lived in Nunavut (45%).

Largest concentrations of Aboriginal women and girls are found in Winnipeg, Regina, and Saskatoon

Across Canada’s census metropolitan areas (CMAs)Note 12, the largest concentrations of Aboriginal women and girls in 2011 were found in Winnipeg, Regina, and Saskatoon.  Specifically, 11% of the total female population in Winnipeg was Aboriginal, followed by 10% in both Regina and Saskatoon. In addition, Aboriginal women and girls accounted for 6% of the female population in Edmonton and 4% in Victoria (Table 3).

Winnipeg also had the largest total number of Aboriginal females. In 2011, there were 40,935 Aboriginal women and girls living in Winnipeg, followed by 31,830 in Edmonton, 27,305 living in Vancouver, and approximately 20,000 in Toronto. 

In 2011, the census agglomerations (CAs)Note 13 with the largest numbers of Aboriginal females were Prince Albert (8,355), Prince George (5,285), Chilliwack (4,325), followed by 4,290 in Sault Ste. Marie and 4,070 in Kamloops.  Of these selected CAs, Prince Rupert, Prince Albert, and Thompson have the largest proportion of Aboriginal females. In 2011, Aboriginal women and girls made up 41% of all females in Prince Rupert and 39% in Prince Albert, while the figure was 37% in Thompson (Table 3). Generally, Aboriginal women and girls made up a larger proportion of the female population in CAs as compared to CMAs.

There are small numbers of Inuit women and girls living in CMAs and CAs. In 2011, the CMA with the largest female Inuit population was Ottawa-Gatineau with 550 Inuit women and girls, followed by Edmonton with 535. Additionally, Yellowknife and Whitehorse were the CAs with the largest Inuit female population; 445 and 85, respectively.

Moreover, Métis women and girls were the most likely of the three Aboriginal groups to live in rural areas in 2011.Note 14 Specifically, 27% of Métis females lived in rural areas compared to 17% of the non-Aboriginal female population. In addition, about four-in-ten (41%) Métis females lived in large population centres, while 20% lived in small population centres, and the remaining 12% in medium population centres.Note 15

Just over a third of First Nations females live on reserve

In 2011, 36% (158,240) of all First Nations women and girls were living on a reserve, which is slightly less than the 39% of First Nations males who resided on a reserve.

Of the 281,535 First Nations females who lived off reserve, 43% lived in large urban population centres. In addition, an equal proportion (22%) lived in either a rural area or a small population centre while the remaining 14% First Nations women and girls lived in medium population centres.

Nearly three-quarters of Inuit females live in Inuit Nunangat

In 2011, there were 59,400 Inuit living in Canada. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Inuit lived in Inuit Nunangat, the traditional homeland of Inuit which is comprised of four regions: Nunatsiavut (Labrador), Nunavik (northern Quebec), Nunavut, and the Inuvialuit Region (Northwest Territories).Note 16 About 16,000 Inuit lived outside Inuit Nunangat (Table 4).

Specifically, there were a total of 29,950 Inuit women and girls in Canada in 2011, with 21,465 (72%) living in Inuit Nunangat and 8,485 (28%) living outside Inuit Nunangat.  The region with the largest number of Inuit females was Nunavut (13,340), followed by Nunavik (5,335).

The proportion of Inuit women and girls living in Inuit Nunangat has declined since 2006. In 2006, 77% of Inuit women and girls lived in Inuit Nunangat while the proportion living outside of Inuit Nunangat was 23%.

Aboriginal female population is younger than the non-Aboriginal female population

The Aboriginal population is much younger than the non-Aboriginal population, which is due to higher fertility rates and shorter life expectancy.Note 17  According to 2011 NHS data, the median age of Aboriginal females was 29.1 years compared with 26.1 years for Aboriginal men, and a much higher median age of 41.5 years for non-Aboriginal women (Table 5).

Inuit are the youngest of the three Aboriginal groups. The median age of Inuit females was 23.3 years, compared with 27.6 years for First Nations females, and 32.1 years for Métis females. Among First Nations females, the median age for those with registered Indian status was 27.2 compared with 28.7 for those without registered Indian status. Moreover, for First Nations females with registered Indian status, the median age was higher for those living off reserve than those living on reserve (29.3 years compared with 24.8 years).

In 2011, just over a quarter (27%) of Aboriginal females were girls aged 14 and under while the figure was 16% among non-Aboriginal females.  Furthermore, a third of Inuit females were aged 14 and under while the proportions were 29% for First Nations females and 22% among Métis females.

In terms of senior Aboriginal women, 6% were aged 65 and over compared with 15% of the non-Aboriginal female population in 2011.  In particular, only 4% of Inuit women were 65 years and over while the figures were 6% and 7% for First Nations and Métis women respectively.  Although the proportion of senior Aboriginal women continues to be small, it has grown by 46% since 2006 (from 30,255 to 44,300) compared with an 11% growth for senior women in the non-Aboriginal population. Moreover, the growth was highest among senior Métis women (+53%), followed by senior First Nations women (+45%), and senior Inuit women (+40%).

As is the case with the non-Aboriginal population, women account for the majority of Aboriginal seniors. In 2011, 55% of all Aboriginal people aged 65 and over were women.  The same pattern was evident across all three Aboriginal identity groups (data not shown).

Age structure of the Aboriginal female population varies across the country

There are differences in the age structure of the Aboriginal female population across the country and among the Aboriginal groups.  In 2011, First Nations females were the youngest in Saskatchewan and Manitoba with median ages of 21.4 years and 22.1 years, respectively. For First Nations females, the median age was highest in Prince Edward Island (38.2 years) and in Newfoundland and Labrador (35.6 years) (Chart 1).

According to data from the 2011 NHS, there were 19,275 First Nations girls aged 14 and under in Saskatchewan, representing 36% of First Nations females in that province.  In comparison, non-Aboriginal girls under the age of 15 years comprised 16% of all non-Aboriginal females in Saskatchewan.  In Manitoba, First Nations girls represented 35% of all First Nations females in that province.

In 2011, the Métis female population was youngest in Prince Edward Island with a median age of 23.1 years. The Métis female population was also relatively young in Alberta (28.6 years) and Saskatchewan (29.3 years). Métis females living in New Brunswick and Quebec were the oldest of all Métis women with median ages of 39.0 years and 38.7 years, respectively (Chart 1).

These differences in age structure are also observed among Inuit females (Table 6). Nunavik and Nunavut are home to the youngest Inuit females with median ages of 20.8 years and 21.6 years, respectively. The median age for Inuit females was 26.1 years in the Inuvialuit Region and 27.9 years in Nunatsiavut. For Inuit females living outside Inuit Nunangat, the median age was 27.5 years.

Inuit girls aged 14 and under represented more than a third (36%) of all Inuit females in both Nunavik and Nunavut. Girls accounted for 28% of all Inuit females in the Inuvialuit Region and 25% in Nunatsiavut. Outside Inuit Nunangat, Inuit girls represented 28% of Inuit females.

Half of Aboriginal girls live with both parents

Data from the 2011 NHS showed that Aboriginal girlsNote 18 aged 14 and under lived in a variety of arrangements, primarily in familiesNote 19 with either both of their parents or with lone parents.  Other Aboriginal girls in that age group were stepchildren, grandchildren living with grandparents with no parent present, foster children or children living with other relatives.Note 20

In 2011, there were 191,355 Aboriginal girls aged 14 and under living in Canada.  Half (49%) of Aboriginal girls were living in a family with both of their parents (biological or adoptive), compared with 76% of non-Aboriginal girls (Table 7). Among the three Aboriginal identity groups, less than half of First Nations girls lived with both parents (45%), while the figures were 58% for Métis girls and 62% for Inuit girls. The proportion of girls living with both parents is lower for First Nations girls with registered Indian Status (43%) than for their counterparts without registered Indian status (50%). In addition, a slightly higher proportion of First Nations girls on reserve live with both parents (46%) compared with 43% of First Nations girls living off reserve.

About one-third of Aboriginal girls (35%) lived in a lone-parent family compared with 17% of non-Aboriginal girls. Moreover, the proportions of girls living with lone parents varied among the Aboriginal groups: 38% for First Nations girls, 30% of Métis girls, and 25% for Inuit girls.  Irrespective of the identity group (Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal), the majority of girls living in lone parents families lived with a female lone parent.

An additional 3% of Aboriginal girls lived in skip-generation families; that is, they lived with one or both grandparents with no parents present.  This was the case for 0.4% of non-Aboriginal girls aged 14 and under. The figures were 3% for First Nations and Inuit girls, while 1% of Métis girls lived in skip-generation families.

The 2011 NHS results showed that 4% of Aboriginal girls aged 14 and under were foster children, compared with less than one percent (0.3%) of non-Aboriginal girls. Specifically, 3% of Inuit girls and 2% of Métis girls were foster children. Among First Nations girls, 4% were foster children; the proportion was slightly higher among First Nations girls with registered Indian status (5%) compared with 3% among First Nations without registered Indian status. In addition, the proportion of foster children varies depending on area of residence. In 2011, 2% of First Nations girls living on reserve were foster children compared with 6% for First Nations girls living off reserve.

Aboriginal women less likely than non-Aboriginal women to live as part of a couple

Close to half of Aboriginal women (47%) lived as part of a couple in 2011 compared with 57% of non-Aboriginal women. There are also differences in terms of the conjugal status of women living in couples; that is, whether they are legally married or living in a common law relationship (Table 8).

Aboriginal women were less likely than non-Aboriginal women to be a married spouse. For example, in 2011, 30% of Aboriginal women aged 15 and over were married spouses, versus 46% of non-Aboriginal women. In contrast, a larger proportion of Aboriginal women were in common-law relationships compared to non-Aboriginal women; 17% versus 11%. Moreover, Inuit women are the most likely to live together as a couple but not be legally married. In 2011, 23% of Inuit women were in a common-law relationship, compared with 18% among First Nations women and 15% for Métis women.

Furthermore, the likelihood of being in a common-law relationship varies with age.  In this case, one-in-five Aboriginal women in common-law relationships were between the ages of 15 and 24 years, compared with 11% of their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Furthermore, among Inuit women in common-law relationships, more than a quarter (27%) were 15 to 24 years of age, compared with 20% for common-law First Nations women and 19% for common-law Métis women.

In 2011, Aboriginal women were twice as likely to be lone-parents as non-Aboriginal women. Specifically, 17% of Aboriginal women aged 15 and over were lone mothers, compared with 8% of non-Aboriginal women. Among Aboriginal women, 19% of First Nations women, 16% of Inuit women, and 13% of Métis women were lone parents. More specifically, the share of women who were lone parents was highest for First Nations women living on reserve; 22% compared with 18% for those living off reserve.

Aboriginal lone mothers tend to be younger than their non-Aboriginal women counterparts; 13% of Aboriginal lone mothers were 15 to 24 years of age compared with 4% of non-Aboriginal women.  The proportion of lone mothers in this age group is slightly higher among Inuit women (15%) while the figures are 14% for First Nations women and 9% for Métis women.  Moreover, a quarter (26%) of Aboriginal lone mothers were aged 25 to 34 years, compared with 15% of their non-Aboriginal counterparts.

Relatively few Aboriginal women aged 15 and over lived alone. In 2011, 11% of Aboriginal women lived alone compared with 14% of their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Among the three Aboriginal identity groups, the figures varied from 12% for Métis women, 10% for First Nations women, and 6% for Inuit women. Furthermore, the proportion of First Nations women living alone is lowest for those on reserve (6%) compared with 12% of their counterparts living off reserve.

On-reserve First Nations females and Inuit females in Inuit Nunangat most likely to live in crowded homes and homes requiring major repairs

Previous research has shown that poor housing conditions, including living in crowded homes, are associated with a number of health problems such as the spread of infectious diseases and respiratory tract infections in infants, as well as on social problems such as violence and low achievement in school.Note 21

In 2011, 11% of Aboriginal women and girls lived in crowded dwellingsNote 22 compared with only 4% of their non-Aboriginal counterparts.  Among Inuit women and girls, three-in-ten lived in crowded homes, as did 14% of First Nations females and 3% of Métis females (Chart 2). More specifically, the share of females living in crowded homes was highest for First Nations women and girls who reported being Registered Indians; 18% compared with 4% for their counterparts without registered Indian status.

When focusing only on girls aged 14 and under, data show that crowding is a major issue. In this case, 19% of Aboriginal girls lived in crowded dwellings compared with 8% for non-Aboriginal girls. Among the Aboriginal identity groups, Inuit girls are the most likely to live in crowded dwellings (40%), while the figures are 23% for First Nations girls (39% among First Nations girls living on reserve and 12% for off-reserve First Nations girls) and 6% for Métis girls.

The likelihood of living in crowded housing varied depending on where women live.  For example, among First Nations women and girls, crowding is four times higher for those living on reserve than for those living off reserve; 28% and 7%, respectively (Chart 2).  Furthermore, the prevalence of crowding among Inuit females also depended on their area residence. In Inuit Nunangat, 39% of Inuit women and girls lived in crowded homes, compared with 6% of Inuit females living outside Inuit Nunangat.  Furthermore, there are also differences by Inuit region ranging from 50% crowding for Inuit females living in Nunavik to 16% for Inuit females in Nunatsiavut (Chart 3).

In 2011, one-in-five (21%) of Aboriginal women and girls compared with 7% of their non-Aboriginal counterparts lived in dwellings that needed major repairs; that is, for example, repairs to correct defective wiring or plumbing or structural problems with walls, floors and ceilings.  Among the Aboriginal identity groups, 29% of Inuit females and 13% of Métis women and girls lived in homes that needed major repairs (Chart 2). Additionally, one-in-four First Nations women and girls lived in homes that needed major repairs; specifically, 29% of First Nations females with registered Indian status and 15% of First Nations females without registered Indian status lived in homes needing major repairs.

In 2011, similar to crowding, the need for major repairs varied depending on where women reside. For example, 42% of First Nations women and girls living on reserve lived in homes that needed major repairs while the proportion was 16% for First Nations females living off reserve (Chart 2).  Moreover, 14% of Inuit females living outside Inuit Nunangat lived in homes that required major repairs compared with just over a third (35%) of Inuit females living in Inuit Nunangat (Chart 3).

Reporting of an Aboriginal mother tongue varies by Aboriginal group

According to the 2011 NHS, 15% (103,935) of the Aboriginal female population reported an Aboriginal language as mother tongue – that is, the language first learned at home in childhood and still understood.  There are significant differences regarding the reporting of an Aboriginal mother tongue when examining each Aboriginal group.  For example, Inuit females were the most likely to report an Aboriginal mother tongue (59% or 17,545), compared with 19% (81,805) of First Nations females and 2% (4,350) of Métis females.  Moreover, among First Nations females, 24% of those with registered Indian status reported an Aboriginal mother tongue compared with 2% of their counterparts without registered Indian status (Chart 4).

Aboriginal mother tongue more likely among older Aboriginal women

In 2011, older Aboriginal women were more likely to report an Aboriginal mother tongue. For example, 12% of Aboriginal girls under the age of 15 reported an Aboriginal mother tongue compared with 15% of those aged 25 to 54 years, and a quarter of Aboriginal women aged 65 and over (Table 9).

The pattern was similar for First Nations females with 13% of those under the age of 15 reporting an Aboriginal mother tongue compared to slightly over a third (36%) of those aged 65 and over. Among Métis women aged 65 and over, 6% reported an Aboriginal mother tongue.  The proportions were 2% for those aged 25 to 54 years and 1% for Métis girls aged 14 and under. The pattern of reporting an Aboriginal mother tongue is slightly different among Inuit women and girls with the highest proportion (62%) for those aged 25 to 54 years. At the same time, the proportion reporting an Aboriginal mother tongue is higher for those under the age of 15 (56%) than the 53% for Inuit women aged 65 and over.

Ability to converse in an Aboriginal language differs by Aboriginal group

According to the 2011 NHS, 17% (123,825) of Aboriginal females reported being able to conduct a conversation in an Aboriginal language.  Specifically, 98,560 (22%) of First Nations females were able to speak an Aboriginal language (29% among those with registered Indian status and 2% for those without registered Indian status).  Among Inuit females, 64% (19,045) reported being able to speak an Aboriginal language, as did 5,850 or 3% of Métis females. As shown in Chart 4, the number of females who reported being able to converse in an Aboriginal language exceeded the number who reported an Aboriginal mother tongue.

Specifically, among the 123,825 Aboriginal women and girls who reported being able to conduct a conversation in an Aboriginal language, 96,550 or 78% reported the same language as their mother tongue. The other 27,275, or 22%, reported a different language such as English or French, as mother tongue, which suggests these individuals have acquired an Aboriginal language as a second language. The proportion varied from 36% for Métis females, 24% for First Nations females, and 10% for Inuit females.Note 23

Older women more likely to converse in an Aboriginal language

Older Aboriginal women were more likely than their younger counterparts to report being able to conduct a conversation in an Aboriginal language.  In 2011, one-in-four (26%) of Aboriginal women aged 65 and over reported they could speak an Aboriginal language, compared with 15% for those under 15 years of age (Chart 5).

This pattern was also observed for First Nations females with 16% of those under 15 being able to conduct a conversation in an Aboriginal language compared with four-in-ten (38%) for those aged 65 and over.  Among Métis women, 7% of senior women reported being able to speak an Aboriginal language compared with 1% of those under 15 years of age.  However, the pattern among Inuit women shows that over half (55%) of those aged 65 and over reported the ability to carry on a conversation in an Aboriginal language while a slightly higher percentage (62%) of those under 15 years of age were able to do the same.

A person’s ability to conduct a conversation in an Aboriginal language will vary depending on their area of residence.  For example, in 2011, less than half (44%) of First Nations women living on reserve reported that they were able to speak an Aboriginal language compared with 10% of First Nations women living off reserve.

Among Inuit women living in Inuit Nunangat, the majority (83%) were able to speak an Inuit language compared with 13% of Inuit women who lived outside of Inuit Nunangat. Knowledge of an Inuit language also varied across Inuit regions.  For example, 99% of Inuit women living in Nunavik reported being able to speak an Inuit language, compared with 89% in Nunavut, 25% in Nunatsiavut, and 21% in the Inuvialuit Region.

Among Métis women, 3% had knowledge of an Aboriginal language.  The proportion was slightly higher among those who lived in rural areas with 5% reporting they were able to speak an Aboriginal language compared with 1% among those who lived in large urban population centres.

Based on results of the 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey (APS),Note 24 being able to speak and understand an Aboriginal language is important to Aboriginal females.  In fact, 62% of off-reserve First Nations women 15 years and older reported that speaking and understanding an Aboriginal language was important to them. Among Inuit women, the majority (85%) reported that it was important to them, as did 41% of Métis women.Note 25

Half of Aboriginal women had a postsecondary qualification

In 2011, half (51%) of Aboriginal women aged 25 to 64 had a postsecondary qualification, including 9% with a trades certificate, 25% with a college diploma, 4% with a university certificate or diploma below the bachelor level, and 12% with a university degree (Table 10).

In comparison, almost two-thirds (65%) of non-Aboriginal women aged 25 to 64 had a postsecondary qualification: 8% with a trades certificate, 24% with a college diploma, 6% with a university certificate or diploma below the bachelor level and 28% with a university degree.  The largest gap in postsecondary qualifications between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women was observed in the proportion with a university degree: 28% of non-Aboriginal women were university graduates compared with 12% of Aboriginal women.

There were also differences among the three Aboriginal identity groups.  The proportion with a postsecondary qualification was 57% for Métis women aged 25 to 64, compared with 47% for First Nations women (37% for First Nations women living on reserve and 52% for off-reserve First Nations women) and over a third (36%) for Inuit women in the same age group. The percentage of university graduates is highest for Métis women at 14%.

At the same time, Aboriginal women were more likely to have a university degree than Aboriginal men: 12% compared to 7%. This was true across all three Aboriginal groups as well as in the non-Aboriginal population; however, the gap was not as large in the non-Aboriginal population (28% for women compared with 25% for men)

There was also a difference in the proportion of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women with ‘no certificate, diploma or degree’.  Among Aboriginal women aged 25 to 64, one-in-four (26%) did not have a certificate compared with 11% of non-Aboriginal women in the same age group. In 2011, 18% of Métis women and 47% of Inuit women did not have a certificate, diploma or degree.  Among First Nations women in the same age group, 30% did not have a certificate, diploma or degree – the percentage was highest among First Nations women living on reserve (43%) compared with 20% among their counterparts living off reserve.Note 26

In 2011, the proportion of Aboriginal women aged 25 to 64 with a high school diploma or equivalent as their highest level of education was 23% compared with 24% for non-Aboriginal women. The proportion with a high school diploma or equivalent as the highest qualification was 25% for Métis women, 23% for First Nations women, and 17% for Inuit women aged 25 to 64.

Younger Aboriginal women have higher levels of education than older women

In 2011, 72% of younger Aboriginal women aged 35 to 44 had completed a high school diploma compared with 62% of older Aboriginal women aged 55 to 64.Note 27 The share of high school graduates among non-Aboriginal women was 90% for those aged 35 to 44 and 81% for those aged 55 to 64.

This pattern is also evident in the three Aboriginal groups. Among First Nation women, 68% of those aged 35 to 44 had completed high school compared with 59% for those in the older age group. The proportions are 81% and 68% for Métis women, and 45% versus 37% for Inuit women.

Furthermore, in 2011, higher proportions of Aboriginal women aged 35 to 44 had a university degree compared with older Aboriginal women. Among younger Aboriginal women, 14% had a university degree compared with 10% of those aged 55 to 64. This pattern was observed for all Aboriginal groups. However, among Aboriginal men, there was no difference between the two age groups in the proportions that held a university degree: 7.6% for both men aged 35 to 44 and 55 to 64 years (Table 11).

As well, younger Aboriginal women were more likely to have college diplomas than older Aboriginal women. Among Aboriginal women aged 35 to 44, over a quarter (27%) had a college diploma in 2011, compared with 21% of those aged 55 to 64. Aboriginal men aged 35 to 44 were also more likely to have a college diploma than those aged 55 to 64, 18% and 14% respectively.

Inuit and Métis women more likely to be high school completers than their male counterparts

Using data from the 2012 APS, past research has examined the educational attainment of Aboriginal people (excluding reserves) in more detail. This research focused on the education experiences of completers and leavers aged 18 to 44. Specifically, completers were those who had fulfilled the requirements for a high school diploma or equivalent, while leavers do not have high school credentials and were not attending elementary or high school at the time of the survey.Note 28

According to the 2012 APS, the majority (74%) of First Nations women aged 18 to 44 living off reserve had completed the requirements for a high school diploma or equivalent (“completers”) which did not differ significantly from the 69% of off-reserve First Nations men. Among Inuit aged 18 to 44, women were more likely than men to be completers (46% versus 36%). Métis women were also more likely than Métis men to have high school credentials: 80% versus 74%.

Aboriginal women and men drop out of high school for different reasons

Research on the general population has shown that reasons for dropping out of school often differ by sex. Specifically, both female and male students cite school-related reasons most frequently; however, females are also much more likely to report personal or family reasons while males more often report work-related factors.Note 29

The 2012 APS asked leavers why they left school. The most common reason given by Aboriginal females for dropping out was pregnancy or the need to care for their own children.  Specifically, 38% of Inuit women, and one-in-four off-reserve First Nations women and Métis women cited this reason.  On the other hand, the main reasons why Aboriginal men dropped out of school included a desire to work, money problems, school problems, and lack of interest.

Aboriginal women have lower literacy and numeracy scores than non-Aboriginal women

Research has shown that higher cognitive skills such as literacy and numeracy, are associated with greater labour force participation and higher earnings, as well as a positive relationship with self-reported health status.Note 30, Note 31 While the literacy and numeracy skill levels of the general population have been identified, the same type of information for Aboriginal people in Canada is limited.

Data from the 2012 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC),Note 32 can be used to provide an understanding of how the level of skills in literacy and numeracy varies across Aboriginal groups (excluding reserves).Note 33

In PIAAC, respondents answered questions aimed at measuring their information processing skills, and obtained scores ranging from 0 to 500. In the case of literacy, respondents were measured for their ability to engage with written texts (both print-based and digital). As for numeracy, respondents were measured on their ability to engage with mathematical information “in order to manage the mathematical demands of a range of situations in everyday life.”Note 34 The higher the score, the better able respondents are in processing complex information. Results presented here are an average proficiency of the population (that is, as “average scores”).

At the national level, Aboriginal women (excluding reserves) had an average score of 262 in literacy, which is significantly lower than the average score of 273 for non-Aboriginal women.  Among the three Aboriginal identity groups, First Nations women living off reserve had an average score of 256, while for Métis women and Inuit women it was 275 and 218, respectively.

For the seven provinces and territories that were oversampled,Note 35 the difference in average literacy scores observed at the national level between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women remains but the magnitude of difference varies greatly across regions. For example, in Ontario the difference is only 2 points higher for non-Aboriginal women (274 compared with 272 for Aboriginal women) while there is a 7-point difference in British Columbia. However, the difference is significantly greater in the Northwest Territories (52 points) and Nunavut (87 points) (Chart 6).Note 36

As shown in Chart 6, at the national level Aboriginal women have higher average scores in literacy than Aboriginal men (262 compared with 257); however, this is not a significant difference. This pattern holds across the country.

In 2012, Aboriginal women had a lower average score in numeracy than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Specifically, the average numeracy score for Aboriginal women was 242, significantly lower than the score of 259 for non-Aboriginal women. Furthermore, off-reserve First Nations women had an average score of 233, while Métis women and Inuit women had average scores of 256 and 195, respectively.

Average numeracy scores also varied by province of residence (Chart 7). Across the provinces and territories oversampled, Aboriginal women had significantly lower average scores than their non-Aboriginal counterparts; however, differences in scores varied considerably. Among the provinces, the gap was largest in Saskatchewan (29 points) and lowest in Ontario (10 points). In the territories, the gap ranged from 37 points in Yukon to 93 points in Nunavut. The data also show that, within each province and territory, the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women was larger for numeracy than it was for literacy.

Although Aboriginal women tended to have lower average numeracy scores than Aboriginal men, the scores did not differ significantly. At the national level, Aboriginal women had an average score of 242 in numeracy while the corresponding average for Aboriginal men was 247 (Chart 7).

Aboriginal women less likely than non-Aboriginal women to be employed

According to data from the 2011 NHS, Aboriginal women were less likely than non-Aboriginal women to be part of the paid work force; 50.4% of Aboriginal women aged 15 and over were employed, compared with 57.3% of their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Furthermore, Aboriginal women were also less likely than Aboriginal men to be employed; 50.4% compared with 53.9% (Table 12).

In 2011, the employment rate of Métis women aged 15 and over was 59.6%. Almost half (48.6%) of Inuit women as well as 45.1% of First Nations women were employed.  In addition, the employment rate of First Nations women with registered Indian status was 41.5% compared with 55.6% for their counterparts who did not report registered Indian status.

There were also differences in terms of employment depending on where women live.  For example, among First Nations women, the employment rate for those living on reserve was 35.2% in 2011 compared with 50.2% for First Nations women who live off reserve. Furthermore, the employment rate among Inuit women also depended on their place of residence. In Inuit Nunangat, 47.1% of Inuit women were employed compared with 51.9% of Inuit women living outside Inuit Nunangat. More specifically, there are also differences by Inuit region ranging from an employment rate of 56.0% for Inuit women living in Nunavik to 44.2% for their counterparts living in Nunavut.

Employment rates increase with education level

The 2011 NHS shows that employment rates were higher for more educated Aboriginal women. For example, among those with higher levels of education, Aboriginal women have slightly higher employment rates than non-Aboriginal women. Specifically, 81.8% of Aboriginal women aged 25 to 64 with a certificate, diploma or degree at bachelor level or above were employed, compared with 79.5% of non-Aboriginal women. The same pattern is observed across the three identity groups (Table 13).

Among Aboriginal women aged 25 to 64 with no certificate, diploma or degree, just over one-in-three (35.5%) were employed compared with 59.2% of their counterparts who had a high school diploma or equivalent as their highest level of education. Furthermore, 73.1% of Aboriginal women with postsecondary credentials were employed. This is slightly lower than the employment rate (77.7%) of non-Aboriginal women with postsecondary credentials.

Aboriginal women most likely to be employed in sales and service occupations

Generally speaking, women in the labour force continue to be concentrated in occupations that are traditionally held by women.Note 37, Note 38  According to the 2011 NHS, Aboriginal women aged 15 years and over were most likely to be employed in sales and service occupations (31%); business, finance, and administrative occupations (22%), and occupations in education, law and social, community and government services (21%) (Table 14). The high proportion of women reporting employment in these occupations was observed across all three Aboriginal groups as well as among non-Aboriginal women, although the proportion in these occupations was slightly lower among non-Aboriginal women.

In comparison, Aboriginal men were more likely to be employed in trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations (35%), and sales and service occupations (20%).  Aboriginal women were also slightly less likely as both their non-Aboriginal counterparts and Aboriginal men to be employed in management occupations.  In 2011, 7% of Aboriginal women reported having managerial positions, whereas the figure was 9% for Aboriginal men and non-Aboriginal women.  The proportion of First Nations and Métis women reporting management occupations was 7% and 8% respectively, while 6% of Inuit women reported such occupations.

Aboriginal women experience higher unemployment rates than non-Aboriginal women

The unemployment ratesNote 39 for Aboriginal women were generally higher than those of their non-Aboriginal counterparts.  According to data from the 2011 NHS, 13.3% of Aboriginal women aged 15 and over were unemployed compared with 7.2% of non-Aboriginal women (Table 12). However, the unemployment rate of Aboriginal women was lower than that experienced by Aboriginal men, 16.8% of whom were unemployed that year. 

In 2011, the unemployment rate was 9.6% for Métis women, and 16.1% for Inuit women. Among First Nations women, the unemployment rate was 15.9%.  Specifically, 18.1% of First Nations women with registered Indian status were unemployed compared with 10.5% for First Nations women without registered Indian status.

Moreover, unemployment rates also vary depending on where Aboriginal women reside.  For example, First Nations women living on reserve experienced the highest unemployment rate (20.8%), while the unemployment rate for their counterparts living off reserve was 13.9%.  Inuit women living in Inuit Nunangat had an unemployment rate of 18.0% compared with 11.7% for Inuit women living outside Inuit Nunangat. For Métis women the unemployment rate was 9.6%.  In rural areas, the rate for Métis women was also 9.6% compared with 11.0% for Métis women living in medium population centres, and 9.4% for those living in large urban population centres.

Unemployment rates decrease with higher levels of education

Generally speaking, the gap between the unemployment rates of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women is smaller among women with higher levels of education. In 2011, among women aged 25 to 64 without a certificate, diploma or degree, the unemployment rate was 19.8% for Aboriginal women and 10.4% for non-Aboriginal women; a gap of 9.4 percentage points. For women with a high school diploma or equivalency certificate as their highest level of education, the gap in the unemployment rate is 5.6 percentage points (12.2% for Aboriginal women and 6.6% for non-Aboriginal women). 

Furthermore, the gap in unemployment rates is much smaller among women with a university certificate, diploma or degree at bachelor level or above. Aboriginal women had an unemployment rate of 5.7% compared with 4.8% for their non-Aboriginal counterparts (Table 13). The same pattern is observed among all three Aboriginal identity groups.

Median income of Aboriginal women lower than their non-Aboriginal counterparts

In 2010, the median incomeNote 40 of Aboriginal women aged 15 and over was $19,289; about $5,500 less than the median income of their non-Aboriginal counterparts ($24,842).  Aboriginal women also had a median income about $3,600 less than that of Aboriginal men.

Furthermore, there are differences in median income among the three Aboriginal identity groups. For example, First Nations women had a median income of $17,641, while the median income was $20,477 for Inuit women and $22,306 for Métis women. Among First Nations women with registered Indian status, the median income was $16,874 compared with $20,309 for First Nations women who did not report being Registered Indians.

Median income varied depending on where people live. For example, First Nations women living on reserve had a median income of $14,513, while the median income for First Nations women living off reserve was higher at $19,701.  Among Inuit women living in Inuit Nunangat, the median income was $20,316 similar to that of Inuit women living outside Inuit Nunangat ($20,826). Furthermore, the median income also varies across Inuit regions. For example, the median income of Inuit women in Nunavik was $24,674, while the figures were $19,818 in the Inuvialuit Region, $19,018 in Nunavut, and $17,964 in Nunatsiavut.

Median income increases with education level

The 2011 NHS shows that median income was higher for Aboriginal women with higher education levels. For example, the median income for Aboriginal women aged 25 to 64 with no certificate, diploma or degree was $15,208 compared to $49,947 for Aboriginal women with a university certificate, diploma or degree at bachelor level or above. The same pattern was evident across all three Aboriginal identity groups (data not shown).

Moreover, the median income of Aboriginal women aged 25 to 64 with a university certificate, diploma or degree at bachelor level or above was slightly higher than for their non-Aboriginal counterparts.  Specifically, Aboriginal women who were university graduates had a median income of $49,947 compared with $47,742 for non-Aboriginal women with the same highest level of education. Among First Nations women aged 25 to 64 with a university certificate, diploma or degree at bachelor level or above, the median income was $48,356 ($43,609 for First Nations women living on reserve compared to $49,934 for their counterparts living off reserve), while the corresponding figures were $50,613 for Métis women and $65,430 for Inuit women in the same age group. The median income of Inuit women who were university graduates living in Inuit Nunangat was $95,058 compared to $55,612 for Inuit women living outside Inuit Nunangat.Note 41

Employment was the main source of income for Aboriginal women

The largest share of income of Aboriginal women aged 15 and over comes from employment sources. In 2010, 70% of all income for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women was earned through employment. Among the three Aboriginal identity groups, 66% of all income for First Nations women came from employment income (58% for First Nations women living on reserve and 68% for their counterparts living off reserve). The corresponding figures were 75% for Métis women and 73% for Inuit women.

In addition, one-quarter of Aboriginal women’s income came from government transfers such as Canada/Quebec pension plans, old age security pensions, guaranteed income supplements and child benefits compared with 17% for non-Aboriginal women. In terms of child benefits, 12% of First Nations women received such payments, while the figures were 5% for Métis women, and 10% for Inuit women. More specifically, the share of income from child benefits was highest for First Nations women living on reserve; 23% compared with 8% for those living off reserve. The corresponding figure was 3% for non-Aboriginal women.

Traditional activity participation varies by Aboriginal group

When examining labour statistics, it is important to acknowledge that these may not always accurately reflect the complex work situation of Aboriginal people, especially for those living in rural or remote communities. For example, income and employment statistics may not reflect seasonal work in many Aboriginal communities as well as participation in what are often considered traditional activities.

According to data from the 2012 APS, a large proportion of Aboriginal women participated in traditional activities. For example, six-in-ten (61%) First Nations women living off reserve aged 15 and over reported they had engaged in traditional activities during the previous year.  These activities included making clothing or footwear; making arts or crafts; hunting, fishing or trapping; and gathering wild plants.  Among the off-reserve First Nations women who engaged in these activities, only 7% reported that they did so for money or to supplement their income.  Among Métis women, 61% also engaged in traditional activities while 8% of these women reported they did so to supplement their income.  The majority of Inuit women (83%) reported taking part in traditional activities in the previous year while 16% of these women reported doing so for money or to supplement income.  The proportions are slightly higher among Inuit women living in Inuit Nunangat: 87% for participating in traditional activities and 18% of these women reported doing so for income.

Residential school attendance

Residential schools, which were often run by churches in partnership with the federal government, existed in Canada from 1830 until the 1990s.Note 42 During this time, it is estimated that around 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were removed from their families and often taken far from their communities to attend these schools.Note 43

The 2012 APS asked respondents if they were ever students at a residential school or federal industrial school.  They were also asked if any members of their families (including grandparents, parents, spouse/partner, siblings, or other relatives) also attended a residential school.

Among First Nations women living off reserve, 12% of those aged 25 and over had attended a residential school.  Furthermore, older women were more likely to have attended residential schools.  For example, among off-reserve First Nations women aged 35 to 45, 8% attended residential schools while 28% of their counterparts aged 65 years and over attended residential schools. 

In 2012, 21% of Inuit women aged 25 and over reported having attended a residential school.  This proportion increased for Inuit women aged 55 and over as 31% reported attending a residential school.  Relatively few Métis women 25 years and over (4%) reported having attended a residential school.

The residential school system not only impacted those who were forced to attend but also had an effect on many generations of Aboriginal adults and their children; in terms of education, income and health disparities.Note 44 For example, previous research using data from the 2012 APS shows that high school completion is negatively affected by the legacy of residential schools.  In this case, results showed that having a family member who attended a residential school lowers the probability of completing high school by age 18 for both off-reserve First Nations females and males.Note 45

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Missing and murdered Aboriginal women

Aboriginal women in Canada are at a higher risk of experiencing violence than non-Aboriginal women. A disproportionately high number of Aboriginal women have also been murdered or have gone missing.Note 46 For a number of reasons, these disappearances and homicides have been difficult to quantify through official statistics.

In 2014, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) released a report on missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.Note 47 This report showed that Aboriginal women were at a higher risk of being victims of violence than their non-Aboriginal counterparts.  In 2011, Aboriginal women made up approximately 11.3% of the total number of missing women while they represented only 4% of all women in Canada. Furthermore, between 1980 and 2012, Aboriginal women were over-represented in the number of female homicides, with 16% of all female homicides perpetrated against Aboriginal women.

In 2015, the RCMP released an update to their previous report.Note 48 This report revealed that Aboriginal women were more likely to be murdered outside the boundaries of Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) and in their own residences.

The overrepresentation of Aboriginal people as victims of crime is confirmed by data from the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS). In this case, violent victimization rates were especially higher among Aboriginal females. Specifically, Aboriginal females recorded a sexual assault rate of 115 incidents per 1,000 population, higher than the rate of 35 per 1,000 for their non-Aboriginal counterparts.Note 49 Furthermore, Aboriginal identity remained a significant factor for victimization among women, even when controlling for other risk factors.

Additional information on crime and victimization will be forthcoming in the chapter on women and the criminal justice system.

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Just under half of Aboriginal women rated their health as excellent or very good

The Aboriginal Peoples Survey (APS) shows that 48% of Aboriginal women aged 15 and over (excluding those living on reserve) rated their health as excellent or very good in 2012. More specifically, half (51%) of Métis women, 45% of First Nations women living off reserve, and 41% of Inuit women rated their health as excellent or very good.

Furthermore, Aboriginal women were significantly less likely than Aboriginal men aged 15 and over to report their health as excellent or very good; 48% versus 53%.  The proportion describing their health in these terms is also smaller than the percentage of non-Aboriginal women who reported excellent or very good health (64%), according to the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS 2012).Note 50

The gap between the self-rated health of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women widens with age (Chart 8). For example, in 2012, the difference between Aboriginal females aged 15 to 19 and their non-Aboriginal counterparts was 8 percentage points (60% compared with 68%). Among those aged 25 to 34, the gap was 16 percentage points while it was 20 percentage points for those aged 55 to 64 years. This trend is evident among all three Aboriginal identity groups (data not shown).

Aboriginal women more likely than non-Aboriginal women to have been diagnosed with at least one chronic condition

The APS defines a “chronic condition” as a long-term condition that is expected to last or has already lasted at least six months, and that was diagnosed by a health professional.  In 2012, 65% of Aboriginal women aged 15 over (excluding those living on reserve) reported that they had been diagnosed with at least one chronic condition.

Furthermore, there are differences in the reporting of chronic conditions among the three Aboriginal identity groups.  Specifically, just over two-thirds of off-reserve First Nations women (67%), 65% of Métis women and 47% of Inuit women aged 15 and over reported that they had been diagnosed with at least one chronic condition. In addition, Aboriginal women were more likely to report at least one chronic condition than Aboriginal males for all three identity groups (58% of off-reserve First Nation men, 58% for Métis men and 39% for Inuit men).

The prevalence of a chronic condition differs considerably depending on where women live. This difference is particularly striking when examining Inuit women living in and outside of Inuit Nunangat. In 2012, 38% of Inuit females aged 15 and over living in Inuit Nunangat reported having being diagnosed with a chronic condition, compared with 65% of those living outside of the Inuit homeland. These results, however, should be interpreted with caution as the reporting of a chronic condition depends on having seen or talked to a health professional.  Because of limited access to health care providers in Inuit Nunangat, the number of chronic conditions that are “diagnosed” and the number actually experienced by Inuit women may differ greatly.Note 51

As it is the case with the general population, the likelihood of reporting a chronic condition rises in the older age groups. Among Aboriginal women, the percentage with at least one chronic condition rose from 46% among those aged 15 to 24, to 58% among those aged 25 to 44 and to 79% for those aged 45 to 64. Moreover, 89% of Aboriginal women aged 65 and over had been diagnosed with at least one condition by a health professional. Among the Aboriginal identity groups, 92% of off-reserve First Nations women aged 65 and over reported at least one chronic condition, as did 86% of Métis women, and 87% of Inuit women.

Arthritis is the most commonly reported chronic condition

According to data from the 2012 APS, arthritis (excluding fibromyalgia) was the most common chronic condition diagnosed among Aboriginal women aged 15 and over (Table 15).Note 52

Almost a quarter (23%) of off-reserve First Nations women aged 15 and over had been diagnosed with arthritis.  About 19% reported a mood disorder,Note 53 followed by anxiety disorderNote 54 and asthma (18% each), and high blood pressure (17%).

Among Métis women aged 15 and over, 21% reported having arthritis followed by 18% reporting an anxiety disorder. Other commonly reported chronic conditions were high blood pressure and asthma (17% each), and mood disorders (16%).

In 2012, 15% of Inuit women had been diagnosed with arthritis while the same percentage had been diagnosed with high blood pressure.  About 9% were diagnosed with asthma, followed by 8% with a mood disorder and 7% were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Aboriginal women more likely than men to have contact with health professionals

Aboriginal women were significantly more likely than their male counterparts to have contact with health professionals.  According to data from the 2012 APS, the majority (89%) of Aboriginal women aged 15 and over (excluding women living on reserve) reported that they had consulted a health professional in the past 12 months compared with 77% of Aboriginal men.

Among off-reserve First Nations women, 90% had seen or talked to at least one health professional in the past year compared with 77% of off-reserve First Nations men.  The proportions were very similar for Métis, 90% compared to 78%.  In the previous year, 80% of Inuit women had consulted a health professional compared to 68% of Inuit men.  Inuit women living in Inuit Nunangat were less likely to have seen or talked to a health professional than Inuit women living outside of Inuit Nunangat: 75% versus 91%.

There is also variation in terms of the type of health professional contacted.  For example, in the previous year, 85% of both off-reserve First Nations and Métis women aged 15 and over had seen or talked to a family doctor/general practitioner while under a third (32% and 30%, respectively) had seen or talked to a nurse.  Among Inuit women, 59% had seen or talked to a family doctor while 55% had seen or talked to a nurse. By comparison, data from the 2012 CCHS show that 82% of non-Aboriginal women aged 15 and over had consulted a family doctor, and 15% had consulted a nurse (Table 16).

Inuit women in Inuit Nunangat were less likely than those living outside Inuit Nunangat to have seen or talked to a family doctor (46% versus 86%) but more likely to have seen or talked to a nurse. In fact, the percentage of Inuit women living Inuit Nunangat who had contacted a nurse (63%) exceeded the percentage who had contacted a doctor (46%).

Having a regular doctor varies by Aboriginal group

In 2012, 86% of Métis women aged 15 and older and 83% of off-reserve First Nations women had a regular medical doctor (family doctor, pediatrician or general practitioner).  Among Inuit women, however, less than half (45%) had a regular medical doctor.  Furthermore, just over one-in-four (27%) of Inuit women in Inuit Nunangat had a regular doctor compared with 82% of those living outside Inuit Nunangat. The corresponding figure for non-Aboriginal women aged 15 and older was 90% (CCHS 2012).

When asked the reason for not having a regular doctor, 23% of off-reserve First Nations women said that doctors were not taking new patients, and 22% said they were receiving care elsewhere. Just over one quarter of Métis women who did not have a regular doctor (27%) reported that no doctor was available, while 21% said doctors were not taking new patients as well as reporting that the previous doctor had left or retired.

Among Inuit women who did not have a regular doctor, 61% reported that no doctors were available. Inside Inuit Nunangat, 66% of Inuit women gave that response; outside Inuit Nunangat, this reason was cited by 17%E of Inuit women.Note 55

Unmet health care needs more likely among Aboriginal women than non-Aboriginal women

According to data from the 2012 APS, 17% of off-reserve First Nations women, 16% of Inuit women, and 15% of Métis women aged 15 and over experienced a time when they felt they needed health care but did not receive it; compared with 13% of non-Aboriginal women (2012 CCHS).

Among those women who did not receive care, the most common reasons given by off-reserve First Nations women and Métis women were: waiting time was too long (25% and 26% respectively) as well as cost (21% and 28% respectively).  For Inuit women, the most common reasons were that care was not available in the area (25%), followed by cost (27%E).

Prevalence of disability more likely among Aboriginal women than in general female population

Data from the 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD)Note 56, Note 57 provide a glimpse into disabilities and limitations for the Aboriginal population. In 2012, 22% of Aboriginal women aged 15 and older (excluding those on reserve), reported having a disability that limited their daily activities compared with 15% of the total female population in Canada. 

The prevalence of disability rose with age both in the Aboriginal and the total female population.  For example, among 15 to 24 year olds, 8% of Aboriginal women reported having a disability, compared with 4% of the total female population. This gap between the two populations remains across most age groups, and it is particularly large among those aged 65 to 74 years. In this age group, six-in-ten Aboriginal women reported having a disability while the comparable number was 28% for the total female population.  Only among those 75 and over, is the prevalence of a disability greater for the total female population; 45% compared to 35%E (Chart 9).

More than half of Aboriginal women reported excellent or very good mental health

Based on results from the 2012 APS, 58% of Aboriginal women (excluding those living on reserve) aged 18 and over reported excellent or very good mental health.Note 58 The corresponding percentage for non-Aboriginal women was 72%Note 59 (CCHS 2012).

In 2012, 56% of off-reserve First Nations women aged 18 and over reported excellent or very good mental health.  This number is significantly lower than the 64% of the off-reserve First Nations men who reported excellent or very good mental health.  Among Métis women, 61% rated their mental health as excellent or very good compared with 68% of Métis men.  Half (51%) of Inuit women aged 18 and over reported excellent or very good mental health; a proportion that was not significantly different from that of Inuit men.

Close to a quarter of Aboriginal women reported lifetime suicidal thoughts

According to the 2012 APS, 22% of Aboriginal women aged 18 and over had seriously considered suicide in their lifetime, a percentage higher than the 12% reported in the non-Aboriginal female population (CCHS 2012).

In 2012, almost a quarter (23%) of First Nations women living off reserve aged 18 and over had seriously considered suicide in their lifetime – a proportion not significantly different from First Nations men (18%). Among First Nations women who had ever considered suicide, 24% had done so in the last 12 months.

Among Métis women, 21% had ever considered suicide, a significantly higher number than the 14% reported by Métis men.  Among Métis women who reported ever considered suicide, 22% did so in the past 12 months. About one-in-four (23%) of Inuit women ever considered suicide, a proportion not different from Inuit men. Moreover, 27% of Inuit women who had seriously considered suicide, had done so in the previous twelve months.Note 60

Food insecurity more prevalent among Aboriginal women than non-Aboriginal women

Food security refers to “when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (Food and Agricultural Organization, 1996).”  In this case, the absence of food security (food insecurity) is a factor which contributes to poor health, as it is associated with restricted mobility, chronic conditions, as well as depression and distress.Note 61

According to the 2012 APS, 21% of Aboriginal women aged 15 and older lived in households that experienced food insecurityNote 62 in the previous 12 months compared with 8% of the non-Aboriginal female population (CCHS 2012) (Chart 10). Furthermore, the proportion is significantly higher for Aboriginal women than for Aboriginal men (16%).

Almost a quarter (23%) of off-reserve First Nations women as well as 18% of Métis women lived in households that experienced food insecurity. Among Inuit women, more than four in ten (43%) lived in households that experienced food insecurity. Food insecurity is a well-documented problem among Inuit.Note 63  According to the Northern Food Basket, it costs $260 to $450 a week to provide healthy diet to a family of four living in northern regions, whereas the same basket of goods would cost $200 to $250 in southern Canada.Note 64

According to data from the 2012 APS, more than half (53%) of Inuit women in Inuit Nunangat lived in households that experienced food insecurity, compared with 22% of their counterparts living outside Inuit Nunangat.

Furthermore, about one-in-ten (12%) Aboriginal women aged 15 and over reported that in the previous 12 months they had personally been hungry because they could not afford enough food.  The figure was 13% for off-reserve First Nations women and 9% for Métis women. Among Inuit women, 23% reported they had been hungry. More specifically, the figure was 25% for Inuit women in Inuit Nunangat, compared with 19%E for their counterparts living outside Inuit Nunangat.

Half of Inuit women smoke daily

The many health risks of smoking have been well established. These include heart disease, oral and lung cancer, emphysema and bronchitis.Note 65  In 2012, three-in-ten Aboriginal women aged 15 and over (excluding those living on reserve) were daily smokers compared with 16% of the non-Aboriginal female population (CCHS 2012).Note 66

According to the 2012 APS, over half (53%) of Inuit women were daily smokers while 29% of off-reserve First Nations women and 27% of Métis were also daily smokers. For each of the three Aboriginal groups, the percentages of men and women who smoked daily did not differ significantly.  Moreover, in Inuit Nunangat, 62% of Inuit women were daily smokers compared with 32% of Inuit women outside Inuit Nunangat (Chart 11).

Alcohol consumption varies by Aboriginal group

Based on data from the 2012 APS, more than one-in-four (27%) Aboriginal women had not consumed alcohol in the past 12 months.  Among the three Aboriginal identity groups, 29% of First Nations women living off reserve, 24% of Métis women and 36% of Inuit women had not consumed alcohol in the past 12 months.  Inuit women living in Inuit Nunangat were more likely than Inuit women living outside Inuit Nunangat to report non-consumption of alcohol: 45% versus 18% (Chart 11).

Heavy drinking, which is defined as having five or more drinks on a single occasion at least once a month,Note 67 has been linked to many health and social problems including cancer, liver cirrhosis, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, motor vehicle accidents, family disruption, and violence.Note 68  According to data from the 2012 APS, one-in-four Aboriginal women aged 15 and over reported heavy drinking compared to 17% of the non-Aboriginal women (CCHS 2012), (Chart 11).

More specifically, just over a quarter (27%) of off-reserve First Nations women aged 15 and over reported heavy drinking, significantly less than the 44% of First Nations men who reported such health behaviour. Among Métis women, 21% reported heavy drinking, significantly different from the 39% of Métis men. Moreover, 35% of Inuit women reported heavy drinking compared with more than four-in-ten (41%) of Inuit men.

Appendix A

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Bill C-31, Bill C-3, and the 2008 Agreement for the Recognition of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq Band

The legislative framework that defines the population entitled to registration on the Indian Register has undergone a number of amendments since the Indian Act was passed in 1876, including:

The amendments made on April 17, 1985 to the Indian Act are known as “Bill C-31.” These amendments allowed women who had lost their registered Indian status by marrying a man without registered Indian status to re-register under Bill C-31, while their children also became entitled to registration. By the end of 2002, more than 114,000 individuals had been added to the Registered Indian population through these amendments.Note 69

The Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act, also known as “Bill C-3,” came into effect on January 31, 2011. Specifically, “this bill amends provisions of the Indian Act that the Court of Appeal for British Columbia found to be unconstitutional in the case of McIvor v. Canada. The bringing into force of Bill C-3 will ensure that eligible grandchildren of women who lost status as a result of marrying non-Indian men will become entitled to registration (Indian status).” Note 70

The Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation was created by Order in Council on September 22, 2011, without the allocation of reserve land. Founding members are entitled to registered Indian status.

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Female Aboriginal population, INAC definition

The definition of the Aboriginal population used in this appendix differs from the one generally used by Statistics Canada. In this case, the data provided for this profile are based on the classification by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), which focuses on the total Registered Indian status population followed by Aboriginal identity groups of the non-registered population. Because Statistics Canada and INAC do not count Registered Indians in the same way or for the same purpose, the numbers presented here differ from those elsewhere in the chapter.

The categories used by INAC are:

  • Registered Indians: self-identified as being a Registered Indian
  • Non-Status Indians: self-identified as First Nations and did not report registered Indian status
  • Métis: self-identified as Métis and did not report registered Indian status
  • Inuit: self-identified as Inuit and did not report registered Indian status
  • Other Aboriginal responses: self-identified with more than one Aboriginal group or reported being a member of a First Nation/Indian band without reporting registered Indian status

In 2011, there were 360,095 women and girls in Canada that self-identified as having registered Indian status in the NHS. Additionally, there were 110,570 Non-Status Indian females, 211,830 Métis females, 29,765 Inuit females, and 6,245 females who fall in the category of Other Aboriginal responsesNote 71 (Table A1).

It is important to note that the total Aboriginal identity female population is the same using both the INAC and Statistics Canada definitions. However, using INAC’s definition, the category of Registered Indians is larger than the category of First Nations with registered status used by Statistics Canada, as it includes anyone who identified as a Registered Indian, including those which may have also identified as First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. Conversely, the Métis category in INAC’s concept is smaller than the Métis single identity category in Statistics Canada’s definition (a difference of 16,635 women and girls). The same is true for the Inuit female population with a difference of 185. For Other Aboriginal responses, which include multiple Aboriginal identities and those not included elsewhere, the difference is 14,065 females. As seen in Table A2, the results presented using INAC’s definition are similar to those presented throughout the chapter.

For the following table on the female Aboriginal population, data are presented for the following groups: Registered Indians, Non-Status Indians, Métis and Inuit based on INAC’s definition.Note 72 A number of characteristics were selected including age structure, living arrangements of girls, knowledge of Aboriginal languages, housing conditions, educational attainment, and paid work.

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