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Chapter 6. Aboriginal seniors in Canada1
Seniors are revered in many Aboriginal cultures for their knowledge and experiences, and the integral role that they play in the vitality and well-being of their families, communities and nations. Aboriginal people turn to Elders as key sources of traditional knowledge, wisdom and cultural continuity. Since Aboriginal people comprise a very young population compared to non-Aboriginal people, analytical focus often comes to rest on Aboriginal youth. This chapter, by contrast, will examine the characteristics of Aboriginal seniors across Canada, including selected demographic trends, culture and language, continuous learning, work and participation in society, living arrangements and housing, and health and well-being.
Selected demographic characteristics
In 2001, more than 976,000 persons in Canada reported that they were Aboriginal, including about 39,600 seniors (65 years of age or older). Ontario had the largest number of Aboriginal seniors (8,600), and British Columbia (7,240) and Manitoba (5,535) had the next largest Aboriginal seniors' populations. (Table 6.1)
While Aboriginal people made up about 3% of the total population in 2001, Aboriginal seniors made up only 1% of the total senior population. Of all the provinces, Manitoba and Saskatchewan had the largest proportion of Aboriginal seniors in their senior populations. Aboriginal seniors made up 4% of all seniors in Manitoba and 3% of seniors in Saskatchewan. Aboriginal people make up much larger shares of the population in the territories. In Nunavut, 91% of seniors were Aboriginal, as were 65% of seniors in the Northwest Territories and 21% of seniors in the Yukon Territory. (Table 6.1)
Aboriginal identity population
Data in this report refer to the Aboriginal identity population. This population includes those persons who responded 'yes' to the following question: "Are you an Aboriginal person, that is, North American Indian, Métis or Inuit?" Also included are those who did not identify as Aboriginal, but who reported that they have registered Indian status and/or band membership.
Generally the Aboriginal population is divided into three main groups: North American Indian, Métis and Inuit. In 2001, approximately 62% of the Aboriginal population reported being North American Indian, 30% were Métis and 5% were Inuit. The remaining 3% either reported belonging to more than one Aboriginal group, or they did not identify with an Aboriginal group but reported having registered Indian status and/or band membership. Each Aboriginal group is culturally and historically distinct, and where possible, findings for the specific groups are highlighted.
A number of respondents to the 2001 Aboriginal Peoples Survey (APS) identified with more than one Aboriginal group. In other words, many respondents identified as North American Indian, Métis and/or Inuit. APS data for specific Aboriginal groups include both the single and multiple responses. For example, an individual who identified as both North American Indian and Métis would be included in the tables for both the North American Indian and Métis groups. However, such persons are only counted once in the total Aboriginal identity population.
When referring to 2001 Census data for specific Aboriginal groups, data include only single responses. Multiple responses to the Aboriginal identity question in the 2001 Census were limited. Nationally, about 6,660 people reported belonging to more than one Aboriginal group. These respondents were not redistributed into the specific Aboriginal groups; however, such persons are included in the total Aboriginal identity population.
Aboriginal seniors younger than non-Aboriginal seniors
The overall Aboriginal population is much younger than the total non-Aboriginal population. In 2001, the median age for the Aboriginal population was 24.7 years, while that of the non-Aboriginal population was at an all-time high of 37.7 years. In 2001, only 4% of Aboriginal people were 65 years and over compared to 13% of the non-Aboriginal population. Of the three Aboriginal groups, Inuit were the youngest population, with only 3% of Inuit 65 years and over (4% of both the North American Indian and Métis populations were 65 years and over).
Not only do seniors make up a smaller percentage of the Aboriginal population, but the Aboriginal senior population is on-average younger than the non-Aboriginal senior population. In 2001, about 3% of the Aboriginal population were between the ages of 65 and 74, and 1% were 75 years and over. On the other hand, 7% of the non-Aboriginal population was 65 to 74 years of age, and 5% were 75 years and over. (Chart 6.1)
Youthful but with a trend toward aging
There is a trend toward aging in the Aboriginal population, albeit slower than in the non-Aboriginal population. This aging is in large part due to a gradually improving life expectancy and to declining birth rates (Statistics Canada, 2003). Nonetheless, fertility rates remain higher among the Aboriginal population than those of the non-Aboriginal population, and life expectancies remain lower.
In the 1996 to 2001 period, the fertility rate of Aboriginal women was 2.6 children, that is, they could expect to have that many children, on average, over the course of their lifetime. This is compared with a fertility rate of 1.5 children per woman in Canada. Among Aboriginal women, the Inuit currently have the highest fertility rate. In the 1996 to 2001 period, the fertility rate for Inuit women was estimated to be 3.4 children, compared with rates of 2.9 children for North American Indian women and 2.2 for Métis women (Statistics Canada, 2005).
When Aboriginal women who are currently 65 years old and over were in their childbearing years, the Aboriginal fertility rate was much higher. Indeed, the fertility rate for Aboriginal people has dropped by half since the 1966 to 1971 period when the total fertility rate was 5.5 children per woman, to the current figure of 2.6 children in the 1996 to 2001 period (Ram, 2004).
While the life expectancy of Aboriginal people have improved over time, it remains lower than that of the total population. In 2001, the estimated life expectancy at birth for Métis women (77.7 years) was the closest of the three Aboriginal groups to that of the total female population (82.2 years). The life expectancy of North American Indian women was 76.7 years, and Inuit women had the lowest life expectancy of Aboriginal women at 71.7 years.
As with the non-Aboriginal population, Aboriginal women have longer life expectancies than Aboriginal men. Métis men had a life expectancy of 71.9 years while North American Indian men had a life expectancy of 71.1 years. Inuit men had the lowest life expectancy of all the Aboriginal groups, men or women, at 62.6 years. The life expectancy of Inuit men was 14.4 years less than the life expectancy of the total Canadian male population at 77 years. (Chart 6.2)
Number of Aboriginal seniors projected to grow in next decade
The latest projections have indicated that the number of Aboriginal seniors is expected to grow more than two-fold by 2017 (Statistics Canada, 2005). In 2001, seniors represented 4% of the total Aboriginal population, and this is expected to increase to 6.5% of the total Aboriginal population by 2017. Like with the growing number of seniors in the Aboriginal population, the overall seniors population is expected to continue to represent a much larger proportion of the total population. The number of seniors in the general population is projected to grow from 3.9 million in 2001 (or 12.6% of total population) to 5.8 million (representing 16.6% of the total population) by 2017. (Chart 6.3)
Chart 6.3 Distribution of the Canadian and total Aboriginal population by age group, Canada, 2001 and 2017
Each of the Aboriginal groups is expected to see different rates of growth in their senior populations. The Métis senior population is projected to have the largest growth, from 12,800 in 2001 to 30,600 in 2017, when seniors would make up 8% of the total Métis population. In comparison, the North American Indian senior population is projected to grow from 28,200 in 2001 to 59,500 in 2017, representing 6% of the North American Indian population at that time. The Inuit senior population is projected to grow from 1,500 in 2001 to 2,500 in 2017, and at that time they would represent 4% of the total Inuit population.
Women outnumber men among Aboriginal seniors, except in Inuit population
As in the total population, women outnumber men among Aboriginal seniors. In 2001, among Aboriginal people aged 65 and over, 54% were women and 46% were men. Similar distributions were found in the North American Indian population (56% women and 44% men) and in the Métis population (52% women and 48% men). Among Inuit seniors, however, men outnumber women. In 2001, 55% of Inuit aged 65 and over were men and 45% were women. This may be due to higher maternal mortality rates for Inuit women that prevailed when senior Inuit women were in their child-bearing years (Choinière et. al, 1998).
Culture and language
It is to the Elders that Aboriginal people often turn for traditional, historical and cultural knowledge. Aboriginal seniors have lived through many changes in their communities, and they are often considered an important link to the teachings of the past. For many Aboriginal people, the transmission of culture from older generations to younger people has been disrupted by many factors. Prohibitions on cultural activities such as ceremonies and traditional gatherings, and the removal of children from Aboriginal communities through both adoption and federal residential schools, are just a few examples. Aboriginal languages, as minority languages, are also in constant danger of being "eclipsed" or overwhelmed by more dominant languages (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996a: 609). This section will explore some of the differences between Aboriginal seniors and their younger counterparts in terms of areas of residence, Aboriginal language use and retention, and attendance at residential schools.
Most Aboriginal seniors live in communities where most people are Aboriginal
According to the 2001 Census, Aboriginal seniors are more likely than their younger counterparts to live in communities where the majority of people are Aboriginal, such as First Nations/reserves or other rural communities. The expression of culture, such as participating in cultural activities and the use of one's Aboriginal language, is presumably easier in areas where most people are culturally similar, as opposed to large urban centres where Aboriginal people often represent a small minority within a larger mosaic of cultures.
In 2001, over half of North American Indian seniors (53%) lived on reserve, where the vast majority of residents are North American Indian. This is compared to 42% of North American Indian adults 25 to 54 years, and 45% of those 55 to 64 years. Conversely, North American Indian seniors were less likely to live in urban areas than younger North American Indian adults. For example, 18% of North American Indian seniors lived in one of Canada's largest cities (census metropolitan areas),2 compared to 28% of those 25 to 54 and 23% of those 55 to 64 years. (Chart 6.4)
While Métis seniors are the most urbanized of all Aboriginal seniors, they remain less urbanized than non-Aboriginal seniors. In 2001, 62% of Métis seniors were living in urban areas - 34% were living in census metropolitan areas and 28% were living in other smaller urban centres. This is compared to 80% of non-Aboriginal seniors. Over one third (36%) of Métis seniors were living in rural areas compared to 19% of non-Aboriginal seniors. As in the North American Indian and Inuit populations, Métis seniors are also less likely to live in urban areas compared to their younger counterparts. In 2001, 69% of Métis 25 to 54 years of age were living in urban areas, compared to 62% of Métis 55 and over. (Chart 6.5)
Most Inuit seniors live in predominantly Inuit communities in the far North. In 2001, 82% of Inuit 65 years and over lived in the North, which in this report refers to the four Inuit land claim regions in Canada : Nunatsiavut in northern coastal Labrador, Nunavik in northern Quebec, Nunavut and the Inuvialuit settlement region in the Northwest Territories. Only a small percentage of Inuit seniors lived in cities outside the North - 3% lived in census metropolitan areas, while another 7% lived in smaller urban centres. Younger Inuit were more likely to live in urban areas than Inuit seniors - 18% versus 10%. (Chart 6.6)
Aboriginal languages more prevalent among Aboriginal seniors
Christina Delaney, Moosonee, Ontario, 10 June 1992
The importance of language to the vitality of culture is widely accepted. Language is often recognized as a people's unique expression of distinctive world views and deeply held beliefs. Currently, Aboriginal seniors are much more likely than younger Aboriginal people to understand and speak Aboriginal languages. Aboriginal seniors are more likely to have an Aboriginal mother tongue (the language first learned in childhood and still understood), have knowledge of an Aboriginal language (the ability to carry out a conversation), and to have an Aboriginal home language (the primary language in the home). While the declining usage of Aboriginal languages among younger Aboriginal people indicates continued losses, some Aboriginal language revitalization is evident. (Table 6.2)
Table 6.2 Aboriginal language characteristics, Aboriginal identity population, 25 years and over, Canada, 2001
In 2001, over half (54%) of North American Indian seniors reported an Aboriginal mother tongue. The percentage of North American Indians with an Aboriginal mother tongue declined with each younger age group - for example, 41% of North American Indians aged 45 to 64, and 29% of those 25 to 44 years reported an Aboriginal mother tongue.
There are significant differences in the language characteristics of North American Indians who live on reserve and off reserve. For example, over three-quarters (77%) of North American Indian seniors who lived on reserve reported having an Aboriginal mother tongue. This is compared to 30% of North American Indian seniors living off reserve. Similarly, 79% of North American Indian seniors on reserve could carry out a conversation in an Aboriginal language, compared to 32% of North American Indian seniors who lived in off reserve areas. North American Indian seniors living on reserve were also more likely to use an Aboriginal language as the primary language in the home. In 2001, 65% of North American Indian seniors on reserve reported using an Aboriginal language as their home language, compared to 18% of those living off reserve.
Métis seniors are more likely than younger Métis people to report Aboriginal language ability and usage. In 2001, 13% of Métis seniors reported having an Aboriginal mother tongue, compared to 7% of Métis 45 to 64, and 3% of those 25 to 44. The percentage of Métis seniors (65 years and over) able to carry out a conversation in an Aboriginal language (16%) is almost twice that of those in the 45 to 64 age group (9%) and three times that of 25 to 44 year olds (5%). In 2001, less than one in ten (9%) Métis seniors reported an Aboriginal language as their home language. This decreased to 4% of Métis 45 to 64 and 3% of those 25 to 44 years of age.
By contrast, the majority of Inuit in all age groups have an Aboriginal mother tongue, can carry out a conversation in an Aboriginal language, and use an Aboriginal language as their primary home language. The vast majority of Inuit who speak an Aboriginal language speak their traditional language of Inuktitut. Even though Inuktitut remains strong, one can see a decline in the usage of Inuktitut in the younger age groups. For example, while there is a small gap between the percentage of Inuit seniors 65 and over with Inuktitut as their mother tongue (78%) compared to those 45 to 64 years (76%), there is a larger gap between Inuit seniors and those aged 25 to 44 (67%).
The vast majority of Inuit seniors are able to carry out a conversation in Inuktitut. In 2001, 78% of those 65 years and over and 77% of those 45 to 64 years reported having knowledge of Inuktitut. This dropped to 70% of Inuit 25 to 44 years of age. While high percentages can speak and understand Inuktitut, lower percentages use Inuktitut as their home language. In 2001, about 73% of Inuit seniors used Inuktitut primarily in the home, compared to 68% of Inuit 45 to 64 years, and 63% of Inuit aged 25 to 44 years.
It is interesting to note that in all age groups and for every Aboriginal group, there are higher percentages of people who reported having knowledge of an Aboriginal language than the percentages who reported having an Aboriginal mother tongue. While these differences are small, this may indicate some language revitalization. In other words, Aboriginal people are learning to speak and understand Aboriginal languages later in life. The exception to this pattern is found among Inuit seniors. In this case, the percentage of Inuit 65 years and over with an Aboriginal mother tongue matched the percentage of those who reported having knowledge of an Aboriginal language (both at 78%).
Aboriginal languages remain an important priority to the off reserve Aboriginal population
There has been a decline in the use of Aboriginal languages in Canada over time. According to a recent study, at least a dozen Aboriginal languages are on the brink of extinction (Norris, 1998). While there are many reasons for the decline of Aboriginal languages, the 2001 APS showed that for many Aboriginal people, Aboriginal languages remain an important priority. The majority of Aboriginal people (59%) living off reserve thought that it was very or somewhat important to keep, learn or relearn an Aboriginal language. Inuit ranked Aboriginal languages particularly high. The vast majority of Inuit, from those aged 25 to 44 (88%) to seniors 65 and over (88%), reported that keeping, learning or relearning an Aboriginal language was very or somewhat important. (Chart 6.7)
Chart 6.7 Percentage reporting that keeping, learning or relearning an Aboriginal language is 'somewhat' or 'very' important, Aboriginal identity population 25 years and over, off reserve, Canada, 2001
Given that Aboriginal seniors are more likely to speak an Aboriginal language, and because of the important role that seniors play as repositories of Aboriginal heritages and cultures, it is perhaps surprising that the 2001 APS showed that for the off reserve population, a higher percentage of North American Indian and Métis people in the younger age groups than those in the older age groups reported that it was 'very important' or 'somewhat important' to keep, learn or relearn an Aboriginal language.
Among North American Indians living off reserve, 67% of those aged 25 to 44 reported that Aboriginal languages are very or somewhat important, compared to 56% of North American Indian seniors 65 years and over. This pattern was also found among the Métis population. Again, those in the 25 to 44 year age group had the highest percentage who reported that keeping, learning or relearning an Aboriginal language was very or somewhat important - 53% did so. This is compared to 43% of Métis seniors. (Chart 6.7)
One can speculate why North American Indian and Métis people in younger age groups gave higher importance ratings to Aboriginal languages than their seniors. It is perhaps because those in the age group of 25 to 44 years are in their childbearing years and are thus giving more consideration to intergenerational language transmission. It has also been noted that there has been a 'cultural renaissance' among Aboriginal people in recent decades, and younger people may be more influenced by these developments than Aboriginal seniors.
Nonetheless it is clear that Aboriginal seniors play an important role in passing Aboriginal languages onto the next generation. The 2001 APS revealed that off reserve, over half (55%) of North American Indian children who can understand or speak an Aboriginal language have received help from their grandparents, as did 51% of Métis children and 46% of Inuit children. About 1 in 10 Aboriginal children (10% of Inuit children, 13% of North American Indian children, and 7% of Métis children) received help learning an Aboriginal language from community Elders. (Chart 6.8) The study revealed that the more a child can rely on multiple sources for learning an Aboriginal language, the more likely they are to speak and understand an Aboriginal language well (Statistics Canada, 2004a).
Chart 6.8 Who helps Aboriginal children learn an Aboriginal language? Off reserve Aboriginal identity population, Canada, 2001
Many off reserve Aboriginal seniors attended residential schools
The residential school system operated across Canada between 1800 and 1990, peaking in 1930 when 80 schools were in operation (Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2002). The stated purpose of the residential school system was to assimilate Aboriginal children into mainstream Canadian society. To this end, generations of Aboriginal children were prohibited from speaking Aboriginal languages in residential schools, and in many cases, were separated from their families and communities for long periods of time. While not every student had negative experiences in the residential school system, residential schools are now widely recognized as having had a negative effect on the well being of Aboriginal individuals, families and communities.
It is important to note that the following figures refer to the off reserve Aboriginal population, and exclude those living on reserve/First Nation communities.3 The 2001 APS found that 14% of Aboriginal people 55 years and over living off reserve attended a residential school, as did 11% of Aboriginal adults aged 45 to 54 years. Inuit aged 45 to 54 years were the most likely to have attended a federal residential school (44% reported that they had attended), followed by Inuit 55 years and over (30%) and North American Indians 55 years and over (20%). (Chart 6.9)
Chart 6.9 Percentage attended residential school, Aboriginal population 15 years and over, off reserve, Canada, 2001
The proportion of Aboriginal people who attended residential schools varies across the provinces and territories. In the territories, for example, at least half of the off reserve Aboriginal adult population aged 45 years and over had attended residential school.4 (Chart 6.10)
Chart 6.10 Percentage attended residential school, Aboriginal population 45 years and over, off reserve, selected provinces and territories, 2001
It is perhaps because of the negative effects of the residential school system on Aboriginal languages that many former residential school students rated Aboriginal languages as important in the 2001 APS. Indeed, North American Indian seniors who had attended residential school gave higher ratings to the importance of Aboriginal languages than other seniors who had not attended residential school. About one in five North American Indian seniors (65 years and over) currently living off reserve reported that they had attended residential school. When these seniors were asked how important it was to keep, learn or relearn their Aboriginal language, about 82% reported that it was 'very or somewhat important'. In comparison, about 45% who had not attended residential school reported that it was 'very or somewhat important' to keep, learn or relearn an Aboriginal language.
Continuous learning, work and participation in society
There are many types of knowledge and many things of value can be learned outside the formal setting of the classroom. Many Aboriginal seniors carry a rich history of personal experiences, and extensive understanding of the vast body of knowledge accumulated by generations of their ancestors. This makes Aboriginal seniors important keepers of traditional knowledge and philosophies; the sort of knowledge that is not easily duplicated in a classroom setting. Without diminishing the importance of this traditional knowledge, this section will examine the improving educational profile of Aboriginal people in the area of formal schooling. It will also review findings regarding the participation of Aboriginal seniors in the labour force, computer and Internet use, and harvesting and volunteer activities of Aboriginal seniors living in the Canadian Arctic.
More Aboriginal seniors with post-secondary qualifications
Increasing numbers of Aboriginal people are pursuing higher education, and successfully completing post secondary qualifications in colleges and universities. Between 1996 and 2001, the percentages of Aboriginal people with postsecondary qualifications increased in every age group.5 Among Aboriginal seniors, 9% had post-secondary qualifications in 1996, and by 2001 this was up to 13%. Increases were also observed in the percentages of non-Aboriginal seniors with post-secondary schooling. As a result, the gap between the percentages of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal seniors with post-secondary qualifications remained largely unchanged in this time period (approximately 13 to 14 percentage points). (Chart 6.11)
While the percentages of Aboriginal seniors with post-secondary schooling are increasing, most Aboriginal seniors reported that their highest level of schooling was less than high school (79%). Indeed, the majority of Aboriginal seniors reported that their highest level of schooling was less than grade 9 (62%). With each younger age group, the percentage of Aboriginal people with less than a high school diploma (including those with less than grade 9) decreased. For example, among those 45 to 64 years of age, 46% have less than high school (this includes the 23% who have less than grade 9 as their highest level of formal education). (Table 6.3)
In 2001, Inuit seniors were more likely to have less than grade 9 as their highest level of schooling and less likely to have university education than their Métis or North American Indian counterparts. However, the three groups had similar levels of trades and other non-university education. (Table 6.4)
Table 6.4 Highest level of schooling, Aboriginal adults 25 years and over, by Aboriginal groups and age groups, Canada, 2001
In 2001, while higher percentages of Aboriginal people 25 years and over were attending school compared to the non-Aboriginal population, only small percentages of seniors reported that they were currently attending school in both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations. Approximately 1% of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people 65 years and over were attending school (full or part-time). (Chart 6.12)
Nearly one in ten Aboriginal seniors participating in the labour force
In 2001, 9% of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal seniors were participating in the labour force. In other words, almost 1 in 10 seniors were either employed or actively looking for work. The participation rate for senior women was lower than the rate for senior men (6% for Aboriginal senior women and 5% for non-Aboriginal senior women versus 12% for Aboriginal senior men and 14% for non-Aboriginal senior men). Inuit seniors had higher participation rates than North American Indian, Métis, and non-Aboriginal seniors. (Table 6.5)
Not surprisingly, participation rates were higher for those aged 45 to 64 years. In 2001, the participation rate for Aboriginal men aged 45 to 64 was 69% compared to 12% for Aboriginal men aged 65 years and over. The participation rate for Aboriginal women aged 45 to 64 years was 56% compared to 6% for Aboriginal women 65 years and over.
Participation rates for Aboriginal seniors in 2001 remained virtually unchanged since 1996. Among Aboriginal adults 45 to 64 years of age, however, there was an increase in labour force participation during this time period. In 1996, the Aboriginal population aged 45 to 64 had a participation rate of 58%, and by 2001 this had increased to 62%. Increases were observed for all Aboriginal groups in the 45 to 64 year age group and may reflect a general trend in rising participation rates among older Canadian men and women.
Unemployment rate of Aboriginal seniors double that of non-Aboriginal seniors
Overall, the Aboriginal population experiences much higher levels of unemployment than the non-Aboriginal population. Unemployment refers to being without paid work or without self-employment work even though one is available for work. A person is only considered unemployed if actively looking for paid work, is on temporary lay-off and expecting to return to a job, or has definite arrangements to start a new job within the next month.
In 2001, the unemployment rate for Aboriginal seniors was more than double that of non-Aboriginal seniors - 13% compared to 5%. The unemployment rate of the Aboriginal population aged 45 to 64 years was 15%, compared to 5% for the non-Aboriginal population in the same age group. Of the three Aboriginal groups, Métis seniors had the lowest levels of unemployment (5% for Métis seniors, compared to 16% for North American Indian seniors, and 14% for Inuit seniors). Generally, men have higher unemployment rates than women. (Table 6.6)
'Trades, transport and equipment operators' topped list of occupations held by Aboriginal men aged 65 years and over
For Aboriginal men who continue to work into their senior years, the most commonly reported occupations were: trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations (28%), followed by occupations unique to primary industry (24%), sales and service occupations (15%) and management occupations (10%). (Chart 6.13)
'Trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations' also topped the list of occupations held by Aboriginal men aged 45 to 64. About 37% reported this occupation, followed by 'sales and service occupations' (14%). 'Management occupations' and 'occupations unique to primary industry' were each reported by 11% of Aboriginal men in the 45 to 64 year age group.
Aboriginal women 65 years and over working primarily in 'sales and service occupations'
Aboriginal women who continue to work into their senior years (65 years and over) were working primarily in sales and service occupations (38%), occupations in social science, education, government service and religion (15%), business, finance and administration occupations (12%) and occupations unique to primary industry (8%). (Chart 6.14)
Similar occupations were reported by Aboriginal women aged 45 to 64 years. 'Sales and service occupations' were reported by largest proportion of Aboriginal women aged 45 to 64 (31%), followed by 'business, finance and administration occupations' (22%), and 'occupations in social science, education, government service and religion' (19%).
Most employed Aboriginal seniors working part-time or part-year
In 2001, the vast majority of seniors, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, reported that they had not worked in the previous year. A small percentage of seniors were employed full-time full-year (3% of Aboriginal seniors and 4% of non-Aboriginal seniors). By contrast, 1 in 3 Aboriginal people in the 45 to 64 year age group were employed full-year full-time. (Chart 6.15)
Among Aboriginal seniors, Inuit seniors were the most likely to report that they had worked in 2000. Almost 1 in 5 Inuit seniors worked, compared to 10% of North American Indian seniors and 11 of Métis seniors. (Table 6.7)
Generally, Aboriginal people are more likely to be working part year or part time compared to non-Aboriginal people. According to the APS 2001, the majority of Aboriginal men report economic reasons, such as being unable to find full-time work, as the reason they are currently working part-time. In comparison, Aboriginal women are more likely to report family responsibilities.
Older Aboriginal people less likely to use computers and Internet than younger counterparts6
Many Canadians are using the Internet to communicate with others, to perform household errands, to seek information, and to access services. As more government agencies and other organisations are relying on the Internet to reach their clients, people who do not use the Internet are at risk of being excluded from a wide range of information, programs and services. Studies have shown that Internet users tend to be younger and more highly educated than those who do not use the Internet; to be employed, have higher incomes and to live in urban centres where there is greater access to Internet service providers. According to the 2001 APS, the same is true of Aboriginal Internet users. (Crompton, 2004)
Computers are playing an increasingly important role in schools and in the workplace. In 2001, around 35% of Aboriginal adults 55 years and over had used a computer. In comparison, 69% of Aboriginal adults aged 45 to 54 years and 81% of Aboriginal adults aged 25 to 44 years had used a computer.
The majority of Aboriginal people aged 25 and over who had used a computer had also used the Internet; however, older computer users were less likely to have used the Internet compared to their younger counterparts. Of those Aboriginal adults aged 55 and over who had used a computer, 71% had also used the Internet.7 This represented only one in five of the entire Aboriginal adult population aged 55 and over. In comparison, more than half (55%) of the Aboriginal population aged 45 to 54 years had used the Internet, as had 71% of those aged 25 to 44.
Income levels of Aboriginal seniors lower than their non-Aboriginal counterparts
In general, Aboriginal people have lower levels of income than their non-Aboriginal counterparts, reflecting in part the lower wages received by those Aboriginal people who are employed, higher levels of unemployment within the Aboriginal population, higher percentage working part-time, and lower levels of participation in the labour force. In 2000, the median income of Aboriginal seniors was 83% that of non-Aboriginal seniors ($14,259 compared to $17,123). (Table 6.8)
Female Aboriginal seniors had lower incomes than other senior women as well as their male counterparts. In 2000, the median income of female Aboriginal seniors was 89% that of female non-Aboriginal seniors ($13,185 compared to $14,886), and 82% that of male Aboriginal seniors ($13,185 compared to $16,046). While male Aboriginal seniors had higher median incomes than female Aboriginal seniors, their median income was 73% that of male non-Aboriginal seniors ($16,046 compared to $22,064). (Table 6.8)
Levels of income varied between Aboriginal groups and age groups. Among Aboriginal seniors, North American Indians living on reserve had the lowest median income at $13,479, and Inuit had the highest median income at $16,776.8 North American Indian seniors living off reserve had a median income of $14,264 and Métis seniors had a median income of $14,831. (Table 6.8)
Many Aboriginal seniors rely on government transfer payments as their main source of income. Government transfer payments include such government sources as Old Age Security Pension and Guaranteed Income Supplement, or benefits from Canada or Québec Pension Plan and Employment Insurance. Both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal seniors relied on government transfer payments as their main source of income in 2000; however, government transfer payments formed a larger proportion of the total income of Aboriginal seniors (73%) compared to non-Aboriginal seniors (48%). In 2000, while employment income formed the main source of income (79%) for Aboriginal people aged 45 to 64 years, employment income represented only 14% of the total income for Aboriginal people 65 years and over. (Chart 6.16)
Increases in the median income of seniors were observed from 1996 to 2001. The median income for male Aboriginal seniors increased by approximately 17%, from $13,762 to $16,046, over this time period and the median income for female Aboriginal seniors increased by 5%, from $12,602 to $13,185.9
Even with increases in median income levels from 1996 to 2001, many Aboriginal seniors in 2001 were living in low income situations. Statistics Canada uses the concept of low-income cut-off (LICO) to indicate an income threshold below which a family will likely devote a larger share of its income on the necessities of food, shelter and clothing than the average family. It is important to note that the incidence of LICO is not calculated for economic families and unattached individuals living in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and on reserves/First Nations.
In 2001, more than one in ten (13%) Aboriginal seniors (65 years and over) were living in family households that fell under the LICO. This is compared to 6.5% of non-Aboriginal seniors. Incidence of low income was even higher for unattached individuals. Half (50%) of Aboriginal seniors who were not living with family (including those living alone) fell under the LICO, compared to 40% of non-Aboriginal unattached individuals.
Harvesting activities among the Inuit
Not all work activities are captured in labour indicators such as unemployment rates and participation rates. For example, the 2001 APS found that many Inuit residing in the Arctic harvest country food such as caribou, seals, ducks, arctic char, shellfish and berries. Harvesting activities create a "mixed" northern economy where a traditional economy exist side-by-side with a wage economy. In addition to the provision of fresh food, harvesting country food also plays an important role in the expression and practice of Inuit culture. (Statistics Canada, 2006)
Harvesting of country food is a popular activity among Inuit adults of all ages; however, Inuit aged 45 to 54 years were the most likely to have harvested country food. Around 79% of Inuit aged 45 to 54 years had harvested country food in the previous year, compared to 71% of Inuit 55 years and over. Inuit youth were less likely than their more senior counterparts to be involved in harvesting practices. In 2001, around two-thirds (65%) of Inuit aged 15 to 24 had harvested country food. Men were more likely than women to have harvested country food.
Inuit seniors in the Arctic regions spend time volunteering for community groups or organizations
There are few data sources on the volunteering patterns of the Aboriginal population; however, the 2001 APS provides some insight into volunteering patterns for the Inuit population living in the Arctic regions.10
In 2001, around 39% of Inuit adults in the Arctic reported that they had spent time volunteering for community groups or organisations during the year. Studies of volunteering patterns in the general population have revealed that volunteering activities tend to rise from a low in the teenage years through early adulthood, to a peak in one's late 40s and 50s and decline thereafter (Selbee et. al., 2001). This pattern of volunteering was reflected among Inuit living in the Arctic. More than half (52%) of all Inuit aged 45 to 54 years volunteered, compared to 44% of those aged 55 and over, 40% of those aged 25 to 40 years and 31% of those aged 15 to 24 years.
Living arrangements and housing
-The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996a: 371
This section will consider the living arrangements of Aboriginal seniors, including their marital status, time spent with grandchildren and available social supports. Most of this section will focus upon the important issue of housing for Aboriginal seniors, including the adequacy of dwellings, overcrowding and water quality.
More than one in three Aboriginal seniors a widow or widower
In 2001, most Aboriginal seniors 65 years and over were either currently married (43%) or they had been widowed (34%). About 12% of Aboriginal seniors were separated or divorced. Only 11% of Aboriginal seniors had never been married; this is compared to almost half of Aboriginal people aged 25 to 44. The percentage of those who had been widowed increased by more than 5 times from the 45 to 64 age group to the population of seniors 65 and over - from 6% to 34%. (Chart 6.17)
In 2001, the vast majority of Inuit seniors (84%) were living with family members11 rather than living alone or with non-relatives. This is compared to 71% of North American Indian seniors, 65% of Métis seniors and 69% of non-Aboriginal seniors. (Table 6.9)
Aboriginal children benefit from spending time with Aboriginal seniors12
The 2001 APS revealed that for many Aboriginal children living in off reserve areas, spending time with Elders on a regular basis has a beneficial outcome. An analysis of participation in extra-curricular activities of off reserve Aboriginal children between the ages of 6 and 14 years revealed that while sports are the most popular activity among Aboriginal children (about 71% of Aboriginal children participated in sports activities at least once per week), time spent with Elders (34%) ranked second. This was followed by art and music (31%) and clubs or youth, drum and dance groups (30%). About 21% of Aboriginal children in off reserve areas helped out in the community or school at least once a week without pay. (Statistics Canada, 2004a)
The survey found significant differences in school performance between off reserve Aboriginal children who engaged frequently in extra-curricular activities, compared with those who rarely or never did so. About half (47%) of Aboriginal children in off reserve areas who spent time with Elders four times or more a week were reported to be doing very well in school. Among those who rarely or never spent time with Elders, 38% did very well. (Statistics Canada, 2004a)
Majority of off reserve Aboriginal seniors reported having social supports13
The 2001 APS asked a series of questions about the types of social supports that were available to Aboriginal people. In particular, respondents were asked how often the following types of supports were available to them when they needed it:
Across all age groups, the vast majority of Aboriginal adults 15 years and over living in off reserve areas reported that they had these supports available to them 'all of the time' or 'most of the time'.
Aboriginal seniors, however, were slightly less likely than their younger counterparts to report having these supports. For example, 80% of the off reserve Aboriginal population aged 25 to 54 years reported that they have someone who will listen to them when they need to talk 'all the time' or 'most of the time' compared to 70% of off reserve Aboriginal seniors 65 years and over. (Table 6.10)
Table 6.10 Selected social support indicators, by age group, Aboriginal population 15 years and over, off reserve, Canada, 2001
Many Aboriginal seniors living in homes requiring major repairs
Aboriginal people in Canada experience less adequate housing conditions than non-Aboriginal people. In 2001, 22% of Aboriginal seniors were living in homes requiring major repairs compared to 6% of non-Aboriginal seniors. Nearly 1 in 4 Aboriginal seniors living in rural areas were living in dwellings that required major repairs, as were more than 1 in 3 Aboriginal seniors living on reserve. While those living in urban areas were the least likely to be living in homes requiring major repairs of all of the areas of residence, more than 1 in 10 Aboriginal seniors in urban areas were living in homes that required major repairs. (Chart 6.18)
Chart 6.18 Percentage of seniors 65 years and over living in homes requiring major repairs, by area of residence, Canada, 2001
In 2001, there was little variation across the different age groups in the proportions of people living in homes requiring major repairs. Consistently, however, Aboriginal people were more likely than non-Aboriginal people to be living in a home which required major repairs irrespective of the age groups. (Table 6.11)
Table 6.11 Percentage living in homes requiring major repairs, by Aboriginal group, age group and area of residence, Canada, 2001
One in three report water contamination in the far North
A safe source of drinking water is fundamental to good health. Water contamination resulting from agricultural activities, industrial discharge and so on can lead to many health problems in adults and children.
In the 2001 APS, 16% of Aboriginal people in urban areas reported there were times of the year when their water was contaminated. For Aboriginal people in rural non-reserve areas, the figure was slightly higher at 19%. However, the situation for Inuit living in the far North was somewhat different. Overall, 34% of Inuit living in the Canadian Arctic reported that there were times of year when their water was contaminated. There were some differences from one Inuit region to the next. For example, water contamination was a major issue in Nunavik (in northern Quebec), where 73% of Inuit stated that their water was contaminated at certain times of the year. This was followed by 33% in Labrador Inuit communities, 29% in the Inuvialuit region and 21% in Nunavut.
The 2001 APS also showed that the majority of Aboriginal people in urban and rural areas were confident that their water was safe for drinking. Fewer than 15% of those in urban and rural areas felt the water available to their home was unsafe for drinking. As with water contamination, water safety was more of an issue for some Inuit in the far North. About 18% of Inuit in the Canadian Arctic reported that the water available to their homes was not safe for drinking; however the proportion varied from one region to another. About 37% of Inuit in Nunavik reported unsafe drinking water in their homes, compared to 16% in the Inuvialuit region, 13% in Nunavut, and 12% in Inuit communities in Labrador.
Inadequate housing can be associated with a host of health problems. For example, crowded living conditions can lead to the transmission of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis A, and can also increase risk for injuries, mental health problems, family tensions and violence. (Health Canada, 1999) For the purpose of this analysis, a dwelling is considered to be overcrowded if there are 1.0 or more persons per room.
In 2001, around 9% of Aboriginal seniors were living in overcrowded homes, compared to 2% of non-Aboriginal seniors. On reserve, 15% of Aboriginal seniors were living in overcrowded homes. (Chart 6.19)
Chart 6.19 Persons in overcrowded homes, seniors 65 years and over, by area of residence, Canada, 2001
Of the Aboriginal groups, Inuit seniors were far more likely to be living in overcrowded homes than North American Indian and Métis seniors - 24% compared to 10% and 4% respectively. (Table 6.12)
Table 6.12 Persons in overcrowded homes, seniors 65 years and over, by Aboriginal groups, Canada, area of residence, 2001
Younger people were more likely to be living in overcrowded homes than older people; this was true for both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal population. The Aboriginal population was far more likely to be living in overcrowded conditions than the non-Aboriginal population in every age group. In 2001, 9% of Aboriginal seniors 65 years and over and 10% of near-seniors aged 55 to 64 years were living in overcrowded homes, compared to 2% and 3% of their non-Aboriginal counterparts. (Chart 6.20)
Health and well-being of Aboriginal seniors (off reserve)
Research has shown that there are many factors that influence the way people rate their health status, including age, gender, and the presence of chronic conditions. There is also a strong positive link between health status and socio-economic factors, such as having high levels of education and being employed. This approach to measuring health - that is, a multifaceted approach that takes into account the contributions of economic, social, psychological and physical factors on health - is commonly referred to as the "health determinants framework." There are parallels between the health determinants framework and traditional Indigenous notions of well-being. (Scott, 1998) For example, some Aboriginal peoples refer to the Medicine Wheel, a symbol of holistic healing that embodies physical, mental, emotional and spiritual facets of health. The natural world is also a key part of well-being because of the intrinsic connections and interrelationships between people and the environment in which they live. Well-being flows from balance and harmony among these elements. According to both approaches, health is much more than the mere absence of health problems and illnesses.
This section will examine how off reserve Aboriginal seniors reported their health status, and will examine some of the influences on health reporting. In particular, this section will consider age, income, level of education, chronic conditions and health behaviours like smoking and drinking. It is important to note that Aboriginal people living in reserve/First Nation communities are not included in this analysis.
Off reserve Aboriginal seniors less likely to report 'excellent or very good' health than younger counterparts
Asking people to rate their health as excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor on health surveys has been found to be a reliable indicator that permits some assessment of positive health as opposed to just the absence of disease, and one that successfully crosses cultural lines. (Health Canada, 2003; Shields et. al., 2001) The 2001 APS showed that the likelihood of reporting 'excellent or very good' health decreased with age among the off reserve Aboriginal population. While over half (56%) of Aboriginal people 25 to 54 years reported 'excellent or very good' health, only 38% of those 55 to 64, 24% of those 65 to 74 years, and 22% of those aged 75 and over did so. Conversely, higher percentages of those in the older age groups reported that their health was 'fair or poor.' (Chart 6.21)
Chart 6.21 Self-rated health status, Aboriginal adults 25 years and over, by age, off reserve, Canada, 2001
Aboriginal people tend to report lower levels of health than other Canadians. In 2001, the gaps between the percentages reporting 'excellent or very good' health were particularly large among women. For example, while 41% of the total Canadian female population aged 65 to 74 reported 'excellent or very good health', only 22% of Aboriginal women in this age group reported the same level of health. (Chart 6.22)
Chart 6.22 Percentage of the Canadian and Aboriginal off reserve population 25 years and over reporting excellent or very good health, 2000-2001
In 2001, similar percentages of North American Indian, Métis and Inuit people reported 'excellent or very good' health in each of the age groups. Although the North American Indian, Métis and Inuit populations reported similar levels of 'excellent or very good' health, there were differences between the groups when reporting their health as 'good' or 'fair or poor'. In particular, Inuit were more likely to report their health as 'good' than the other Aboriginal groups.
Chart 6.23 Self-rated health status, North American Indian population 25 years and over, off reserve, Canada, 2001
In each of the Aboriginal groups, women and men reported similar levels of excellent or very good health. The exception is between North American Indian men and women aged 55 to 64. Within this age group, 48% of men reported their health as excellent or very good compared to 26% of females (statistically significant difference). (Chart 6.26)
Chart 6.26 Percentage reporting excellent or very good health, Aboriginal adults 25 years and over, by Aboriginal group and sex, Canada, off reserve, 2001
Arthritis or rheumatism most commonly reported chronic condition among off reserve Aboriginal seniors
The APS 2001 found that the vast majority of off reserve Aboriginal seniors (87%) are currently living with one or more chronic conditions. The most common chronic conditions reported by Aboriginal seniors living off-reserve were: arthritis and rheumatism (53%), heart problems (50%), high blood pressure (42%), diabetes (22%) and stomach problems or intestinal ulcers (16%). Arthritis or rheumatism was the chronic condition reported by the highest percentage of Aboriginal women seniors (58%), and heart problems topped the list for Aboriginal men (54% of Aboriginal men 65 years and over). (Table 6.13)
Table 6.13 Percentage with selected chronic conditions, 65 years and over, off reserve Aboriginal population and total Canadian population, 2001
In 2001, Inuit seniors reported lower levels of chronic conditions than North American Indian or Métis seniors. For example, over half of North American Indian seniors (57%) and Métis seniors (50%) had been diagnosed with arthritis or rheumatism, compared to 32% of Inuit seniors. Large gaps were also found among those diagnosed with heart problems - 52% of North American Indian and 50% of Métis seniors had been diagnosed with heart problems, compared to 26% of Inuit seniors. (Table 6.14) These differences may be in part due to limited access to health professionals in the Arctic regions where most Inuit seniors reside. In other words, there may be many undiagnosed chronic conditions among Inuit seniors.
Table 6.14 Percentage with selected chronic conditions, North American Indian, Métis and Inuit populations, 65 years and over, off reserve, 2001
It is not surprising that people living with chronic conditions tend to rate their health as lower than those who do not have chronic conditions. This is true for all age groups, not only for seniors. For example, over half of off reserve Aboriginal seniors who have not been diagnosed with any chronic conditions reported their health as 'excellent or very good'. By comparison, only about 1 in five of off reserve Aboriginal seniors who have been diagnosed with a chronic condition reported 'excellent or very good' health. (Chart 6.27)
Chart 6.27 Percentage reporting excellent or very good health, by chronic conditions, Aboriginal population 25 years and over, off reserve, Canada, 2001
About 70% of off reserve Aboriginal seniors reported disabilities
Difficulties hearing, seeing, communicating, walking, climbing stairs, bending, learning or doing any similar activities can limit everyday activities, both within and outside the home. These activity limitations and participation restrictions can have a profound impact on people's lives, affecting mobility, independence, employment, income levels, leisure activities and psychological well-being. (Statistics Canada, 2004b) Respondents who reported such activity limitations and/or participation restrictions on the 2001 APS were considered to have a disability.14 Readers should note that it is not possible from these questions to determine the type or severity of disability. A review of various survey findings has also shown that different surveys produce different disability prevalence rates (Rietschlin et. al., 2004); as a result, findings in this section are not directly comparable to other survey results.15
The 2001 APS showed that disabilities were more common among Aboriginal people 65 years and over than for those aged 55 to 64 years. In 2001, 70% of Aboriginal seniors indicated they had a disability, compared to 55% of Aboriginal adults aged 55 to 64 years. The rates of disabilities among the North American Indian, Métis and Inuit populations 55 and over were similar. (Chart 6.28)
Chart 6.28 Percentage of Aboriginal population reporting a disability, 55 years and over, by Aboriginal group, Canada, off reserve, 2001
According to findings from the 2001 APS, those with disabilities report lower levels of health than those who do not have a disability. For example, of off reserve Aboriginal seniors who reported having a disability, 18% reported their health as 'excellent or very good.' By comparison, 40% of off reserve Aboriginal seniors without disabilities reported 'excellent or very good' health. (Chart 6.29) Conversely, higher percentages of Aboriginal seniors with disabilities reported 'fair or poor' health than Aboriginal seniors without disabilities - 51% compared to 23%. (Chart 6.30)
Chart 6.29 Excellent or very good self-rated health status, by presence of activity limitations, Aboriginal population, off reserve, Canada, 2001
Chart 6.30 Fair or poor self-rated health status, by presence of activity limitations, Aboriginal population 55 years and over, off reserve, Canada, 2001
Living below the low income cut-off affects the health of some Aboriginal seniors
Evidence shows that people with higher socio-economic status tend to report better health than do those at lower socio-economic levels. (Shields et. al., 2001) One indicator of socio-economic status is level of income. While income level may reveal much about one's living circumstances, particularly if one is living in a low-income category, it is important to remember that in some regions of Canada there is also a traditional economy existing in parallel with the wage economy. For example, in the Arctic regions many Inuit rely on harvesting activities, which not only contribute to their economic situation, but have cultural importance as well. (Statistics Canada, 2006) These activities are not necessarily reflected in conventional income data. That being said, for many Aboriginal seniors, income levels reflect an important facet of health and well-being.
In keeping with the well-documented finding that socio-economic status is linked to health status, the APS 2001 found that lower levels of self-rated health were reported among members of low-income families and low-income individuals in each of the age groups in the off reserve Aboriginal population. Generally speaking, self-perceived health ratings are higher among younger people than those in the older age groups; however, some off reserve Aboriginal seniors who were living above the low-income cut-off (LICO) reported better health than those in younger age groups who fell below the LICO. For example, while 26% of non-low income Aboriginal seniors 65 and over reported 'excellent or very good' health, only 22% of low-income Aboriginal adults 55 to 64 years reported the same level of health.
Levels of education linked to health status
Studies have shown that socio-economic status, including one's level of education, influences health and well-being. A recent study revealed that along with some chronic conditions, education was one of the few determinants to be significantly associated with healthy aging among both middle-aged adults (those aged 45 to 64) and seniors (65 years and over) in the general population. (Martel, 2005)
For the off reserve Aboriginal population, a significant gap exists between those with less than high school and those with a high school diploma. For the 'near seniors' population (55 to 64 years), only one-quarter with less than high school reported 'excellent or very good' health, while half of those in this age group with a high school diploma or higher reported this highest level of health status. The same pattern was evident for Aboriginal seniors 65 and over. While about 1 in 5 Aboriginal seniors with less than high school reported 'excellent or very good' health, almost 1 in 3 of those with a high school diploma or higher reported 'excellent or very good' health. (Chart 6.31)
Chart 6.31 Percentage reporting excellent or very good health status, by LICO status, Aboriginal off reserve population, Canada, 2001
Off reserve Aboriginal seniors with social support report better health
In general, how people associate with one another and the support they have available from people around them, is thought to have implications for one's well-being (Statistics Canada, 2004, c). Over the past two decades, increasing evidence suggests that people with weak social ties are at greater risk of death, even when age, physical limitation, illness, and socio-economic status are taken into account. (Wilkins, 2003)
Generally, Aboriginal seniors living off reserve who had access to social support 'all or most of the time', were more likely to report their health as 'excellent or very good' than those who had almost no access to support. For example, about 1 in 4 Aboriginal seniors who reported that they have someone who shows them love and affection 'all or most of the time' reported excellent or very good health. By contrast, among those Aboriginal seniors who reported that they have someone to show them love and affection 'almost none of the time', less than 1 in 10 reported excellent or very good health. By the same token, Aboriginal seniors who had almost no access to support were more likely to report their health as fair or poor than other Aboriginal seniors in general, and Aboriginal seniors who had sources of support 'all or most of the time'. (Table 6.15)
Table 6.15 Self rated health status by access to social supports, Aboriginal seniors 65 years and over, Canada, off reserve, 2001
Compared to younger counterparts, off reserve Aboriginal seniors less likely to smoke
Smoking is the single most important risk factor associated with chronic illnesses and remains the number one cause of death in Canada. (Shields, 2004) Smoking patterns of the general Canadian population show that most smokers are daily smokers, and this pattern also holds true for the off reserve Aboriginal population. In 2001, 47% of the off reserve Aboriginal population 25 years and over reported that they currently smoke - 39% were daily smokers, and 8% were occasional smokers. By comparison, 22% of the total Canadian population 25 years and over reported that they smoke daily and 4% reported being occasional smokers. (CCHS, 2000/01) Among seniors 65 years and over, 24% of off reserve Aboriginal seniors reported being daily smokers, compared to 10% of the total Canadian population of seniors.
In 2001, more than one in five (22%) North American Indian seniors living off reserve were daily smokers, compared to 36% of North American Indians aged 45 to 64, and 41% of North American Indians aged 25 to 44. (Chart 6.32)
Chart 6.32 Smoking status, North American Indian population aged 25 and over, off reserve, Canada, 2001
Among the Métis population, 24% of seniors were daily smokers, compared to 34% of those aged 45 to 64 years and 42% of those aged 25 to 44 years. (Chart 6.33)
The prevalence of smoking is particularly high for Inuit. Like the North American and Métis populations, however, the prevalence of daily smoking for Inuit was lower among seniors than any other age group. While more than one in three (36%) Inuit seniors were daily smokers; about half of Inuit aged 45 to 64 were daily smokers as were almost two-thirds of those aged 25 to 44. (Chart 6.34)
The 2001 APS showed that many Aboriginal seniors had never smoked. About 1 in 5 Inuit seniors, 1 in 4 Métis seniors and 1 in 3 North American Indian seniors had never smoked.
Quitting is one of the most important steps that smokers can take to improve their health - it has been found that regardless of the age of the smoker, quitting lengthens life expectancy. (Shields, 2004) In 2001, a substantial number of Aboriginal seniors who used to smoke daily or occasionally reported that they no longer smoked. According to the 2001 APS around 39% of North American Indian seniors who had at one time been daily or occasional smokers reported that they were now non-smokers, as did 43% of Métis seniors and 38% of Inuit seniors. Higher percentages of non-smokers were found among the senior populations than any of the other age groups. (Charts 6.32, 6.33 and 6.34)
Fewer drinkers in the off reserve Aboriginal population than in general population
The majority of Canadians aged 15 years and over drink alcohol - about 77% reported in the Canadian Community Health Survey 2003 that they had an alcoholic beverage in the previous 12 months. (Tjepkema 2004) In 2001, the percentage of the off reserve Aboriginal population 15 years and over who reported that they had a drink in the previous 12 months was lower, at 73%. The percentage of non-drinkers in the off reserve Aboriginal population increased with each older age group. For example, while about 1 out of 4 (23%) Aboriginal people aged 25 to 54 reported that they did not have a drink in the previous 12 months, over half (52%) of Aboriginal seniors reported being non-drinkers. (Chart 6.35)
Chart 6.35 Percentage who had an alcoholic beverage in past 12 months, Aboriginal population 25 years and over, off reserve, Canada, 2001
The majority of off reserve North American Indian seniors do not drink - 54% of men and 60% of women reported that they did not have a drink in the previous 12 months. About 1 in 5 North American Indian women aged 65 and over were regular drinkers (one drink a month or more), and 18% reported being occasional drinkers (less than one drink a month). By comparison, 38% of North American Indian men reported being regular drinkers, and 8% reported being occasional drinkers. (Table 6.16)
Table 6.16 Type of drinker, by sex and age, North American Indian population, off reserve, Canada, 2001
Similar patterns were found among Métis seniors. Half of Métis women 65 years and over reported being non-drinkers, compared with 40% of their male counterparts. About 1 in 4 Métis senior women reported being regular drinkers (one drink a month or more) and 22% reported being occasional drinkers (less than one drink a month). This is compared to 40% of Métis men 65 and over who reported being regular drinkers, and 16 E % who reported being occasional drinkers. (Table 6.17)
As with the North American Indian and Métis populations, older Inuit living in the Canadian Arctic were less likely than their younger counterparts to drink. In 2001, 52% of Inuit aged 45 years and over living in the Arctic regions did not consume alcohol in the previous 12 months, compared to 28% of Inuit aged 25 to 44 years. Inuit women were less likely to drink than Inuit men.16 (Table 6.18)
Table 6.18 Consumption of alcohol in the previous 12 months, Inuit adults 25 years and over, Arctic regions, off reserve, 2001
Many studies have shown that moderate drinking is protective against certain illnesses. In fact, studies have shown that Canadian seniors who never drank alcohol were more at risk of losing their good health compared with seniors who were current or former drinkers (Naimi 2005), and that regular use of alcohol can contribute to lowering the probability of developing certain illnesses (Martel et al., 2005). Heavy drinking, however, has been found to be more problematic.
Heavy drinking is defined as having five or more drinks on one occasion at least once a month in the past 12 months. Aboriginal seniors are much less likely than their younger counterparts to be heavy drinkers. In 2001, 17% of off reserve Aboriginal seniors aged 65 and over reported being heavy drinkers, as did 19% of Aboriginal people 55 to 64 years and 28% of Aboriginal people 25 to 54 years. In the total population, 5% of seniors 65 years and over reported being heavy drinkers.
Contact with health professionals influenced by where one lives
The 2001 Aboriginal Peoples Survey showed that access to health care professionals is influenced by where one is living. For example, the Aboriginal population in the Arctic regions had less contact with family doctors and general practitioners than Aboriginal people living in urban and rural areas. Aboriginal people in the Canadian Arctic are more likely to have contact with a nurse than other types of health professionals, perhaps an indication of the types of health care professionals that are accessible in the far North. In 2001, while only 43% of the Aboriginal population 15 years and over in the Arctic regions reported having contact with a doctor or general practitioner, 58% reported having contact with a nurse. (Chart 6.36)
Chart 6.36 Contact with health professionals, Aboriginal population 15 years and over, off reserve, Canada, 2001
Of the off reserve Aboriginal population, those in the older age groups were more likely to have had contact with a family doctor or general practitioner. While 72% of the off reserve Aboriginal population aged 25 to 54 reported that they had seen or talked on the telephone with a family doctor about their physical, emotional or mental health in the past 12 months, 86% of Aboriginal seniors 65 years and over did so. (Chart 6.37)
Chart 6.37 Contact with family doctor or general practitioner in past 12 months, Aboriginal population, off reserve, Canada, 2001