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Urban Aboriginal Population

Table UAP-1. Highest level of education attained, Aboriginal population aged 25 years and over
Canadian Plains Research Center

Of 130,190 Saskatchewan residents self-identifying, in whole or part, as Aboriginal in the 2001 Census, a third—43,695 (33.6%)—were First Nations population on reserve, another 22,275 (17.1%) rural Aboriginal population off reserve, and almost half—60,840 (46.7%)—were Aboriginal people in urban areas, including 34,935 in the two Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) of Saskatoon and Regina and another 25,905 in other urban centres. In Saskatoon, 20,275 Aboriginal people were counted (9.1% of the total city population), of which 11,290 were First Nations (including 11,025 Registered Indians), 8,305 Métis, and 680 mixed Aboriginal or other Aboriginal identifications. Regina had an Aboriginal-identity population of 15,685 (8.3% of the total city population), of which 9,200 were First Nations, 5,990 Métis, and 495 other Aboriginal. Prince Albert had an Aboriginal-identity population numbering 11,640 (29.1% of the total city population), including 5,375 First Nations, 5,950 Métis, and 315 other Aboriginal. In North Battleford, residents identifying as Aboriginal numbered 3,180 (18.5% of the city population), of whom 1,875 were First Nations, 1,285 Métis, and 25 other. Other significant urban Aboriginal concentrations were in Lloydminster (2,000), Yorkton (1,825) and Moose Jaw (1,405). In absolute numbers, Saskatoon and Regina rank respectively fifth and seventh among CMAs by size of Aboriginal-identity population, yet have among the highest proportionate number of Aboriginal residents; while among smaller cities Prince Albert stands out as having a relatively high Aboriginal population, now approaching a third of the city’s total population.

Table UAP-2. Selected Employment data, Aboriginal-identity population, 2001
Canadian Plains Research Center

A rapid urbanization of the “Native Indian” population in Saskatchewan occurred during the 1960s. The urban proportion within this population increased from just 5.5% in 1961 to 21.7% in 1971. Much of this change was in the two largest cities. In Regina the “Native Indian” population increased from 539 to 2,860, and in Saskatoon from 207 to 1,070. Since 1971 the urban Aboriginal population has continued to increase, although at a slower rate each decade. By 1991, in both Regina and Saskatoon, 5.7% of the total city population identified as Aboriginal. However, a greater number of residents claimed some Aboriginal ancestry than identified as Aboriginal (entirely or partially): in Regina, respectively 12,765 compared to 11,020, and in Saskatoon 14,225 compared to 11,920. This discrepancy remained in 2001: in Regina 17,575 claimed to be solely or partially of “North American Indian” or Métis ethnic origin (11,950 Indian, 5,625 Métis), compared to 15,685 identifying as Aboriginal; and in Saskatoon 22,850 claimed to be of “North American Indian” (14,970) or Métis (7,880) ethnic origin compared to 20,275 identifying as Aboriginal. Using the identity rather than ethnic origin data, one may note that the Aboriginal-identity population has increased in absolute numbers and proportionately during the past decade: for example, in Saskatoon from 11,920 (5.7% of the city population) in 1991 to 15,550 (7.5%) in 1996 and 20,275 (9.1%) in 2001; today, approximately one in every ten residents is Aboriginal. The Aboriginal populations of Saskatoon and Regina have gradually become more dispersed throughout these cities, while still remaining largely concentrated in poorer neighbourhoods. Today in Saskatoon, for example, out of sixty neighbourhoods only two still lack any Aboriginal residents. In two inner-city neighbourhoods, which are the poorest in the city, close to half the population is now Aboriginal; in another two neighbourhoods (also poor), over a third of the residents are Aboriginal; in another four, 20–29%; in eleven 10–19%; and the remaining thirty-eight neighbourhoods contain less than 10% Aboriginal residents—many as few as 1–3%.

Table UAP-3. Housing conditions, Aboriginal-identity population in Saskatoon and Regina, 2001
Canadian Plains Research Center

Examination of recent five-year gross migration rates of Aboriginal population in Saskatoon and Regina reveals that in-migration into these cities has usually been matched, more or less, by out-migration; yet this may now be changing in favour of in-migration. Recent research reveals that an increasing proportion of urban Aboriginal population consists of long-term or “permanent” residents. In Saskatoon, the 2001 Census revealed that for the urban Aboriginal-identity population aged 1 year and over (19,690), 61.1% had lived in the same residence last year, 27.6% in the same city but at a different address, 8.8% in Saskatchewan but had changed residence, and 2.5% outside the province. Whereas for the Aboriginal-identity population aged 5 years and over (17,560), 26.3% lived at the same city address five years ago, 46.3% had changed address within the city, 20.1% outside the city but within the province, and 7.3% outside the province. In Regina, for the Aboriginal-identity population aged 1 year and over (15,265), 63.9% had not moved in the past year, 26.9% had moved within the city, 6.3% outside the city but within the province, and 2.9% outside the province. And for the Regina Aboriginal-identity population aged 5 years and over (13,360), 32.1% had not moved during the past five years, 49.2% had moved within the city, 13.2% within the province but outside the city, and 6.1% beyond the province. Thus these findings seem to be quite comparable for both Saskatoon and Regina, revealing a very substantial pattern of mobility within the city every few years, yet less movement between urban and rural (e.g., reserve) areas. The urban Aboriginal population is young: in both Regina and Saskatoon half of the Aboriginal identity population is under 20 years of age (in Regina, respectively 50.4% and 48.7% in 1996 and 2001; in Saskatoon 49.8% and 47.9%). This means that an increasing number of young Aboriginal people are born and raised in the city, with little or no familiarity with reserve or rural life.

The cities provide more opportunities for education, and urban Aboriginal youth are becoming better educated. Several thousand Aboriginal students are enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan, First Nations University of Canada, and Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies in Saskatoon; and at the University of Regina, First Nations University of Canada, and Gabriel Dumont Institute in Regina. While the increasing urban Aboriginal presence is felt at virtually every level of education, it is especially dominant at the elementary level. In fact, several inner-city schools in Saskatoon and Regina now have a majority of pupils who are Aboriginal. There are also high schools pursuing an Aboriginal curriculum, such as Joe Duquette School in Saskatoon. (See Table UAP-1.)

Clearly, with urbanization Aboriginal people have been diversifying within the labour force and earning higher incomes. Now almost one-third of urban Aboriginals within the experienced labour force are in sales and service occupations; they are becoming relatively prominent in trades, business and finance, and education occupations; but fewer (although increasing numbers) are found in management, health, and science occupations. The unemployment rate, as well as dependence upon government transfer payments, while slightly better for urban Aboriginals, is still excessive compared to the provincial rates for non-Aboriginal population (4.8% unemployment). (See Table UAP-2.)

There is wide variation in average family income in neighbourhoods having the largest Aboriginal concentrations. In 1996 in Saskatoon, for example, average income for Aboriginal families ($20,800 rounded) was less than half that of Saskatoon families in general ($48,900), and ranged from a low of approximately $7,000 in one neighbourhood to a high of $39,900 in another. In the neighbourhood having the highest Aboriginal proportion, average family income was $13,500.

Saskatoon and Regina currently have the highest proportion of Aboriginal population living below the statistical poverty line (the Low Income Cut-off or LICO) of any CMA in Canada—almost two-thirds of the Aboriginal population in each of these cities: in 1996 in Saskatoon 64% of the Aboriginal population was below the LICO, compared to only 18% of the non-Aboriginal population; in Regina 63% of Aboriginals were below the LICO, compared to 14% of non-Aboriginals. Aboriginal unemployment rates and the LICO rate in all census tracts having the highest Aboriginal concentrations far exceeded non-Aboriginal rates. Moreover, average income for Aboriginal-identity population lagged far behind the non-Aboriginal populations in Saskatoon and Regina (by approximately $9,000 and $12,000 respectively). One the whole, then, despite indications of increasing occupational diversity among urban Aboriginal population in Saskatchewan, this population remains disproportionately poor. There is contemporary concern among urban Aboriginal residents over increasing crime rates in poorer inner-city neighbourhoods. These neighbourhoods, which have the highest Aboriginal concentrations, have the greatest prevalence of Aboriginal youth gangs, as well as of violent sexual assaults, armed robbery, both residential and business break and entry, vehicle theft, petty theft, and prostitution.

Housing conditions for urban Aboriginal population are improving. Much research and many policy recommendations have been reflected in increasing collaboration between Aboriginal organizations such as the Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) and Central Urban Métis Federation Inc. (CUMFI) and universities, civic government (particularly City Planning), housing consortia, and community organizations—all recently linked in the comprehensive Bridges and Foundations Project on Urban Aboriginal Housing in Saskatoon. Among the urban Aboriginal population home ownership is increasing and overcrowding lessening; however, many families are still struggling with relatively limited incomes and poor housing conditions, and demand for affordable housing far exceeds availability. (See Table UAP-3.)

In Saskatoon, in all neighbourhoods where Aboriginal residents form significant proportions (over 10%), the proportion of Aboriginal families headed by lone parents far exceeds the proportion in non-Aboriginal families: for example, in the city as a whole in 1996, 11% of Aboriginal families were headed by single parents, compared to 4% of non-Aboriginal families; the proportion in Aboriginal families ranged from a minimum of 23.8% to a maximum of 68.8% for particular neighbourhoods. The rate of lone-parent families as well as common-law relationships among Aboriginals continues to be relatively higher than among non-Aboriginals: in Saskatoon in 2001, among 20,220 Aboriginal census families, 12.3% were headed by lone parents and 8.9% were common-law relationships; in Regina, of 15,650 families, 10% were lone parent and 12.6% common law; and in Saskatchewan, of 130,020 Aboriginal families, 9.9% were headed by lone parents and 10% were common law.

Aboriginal businesses and institutions (such as the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, Saskatoon Tribal Council, Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority, Métis Nation–Saskatchewan administrative offices, First Nations Bank of Canada, White Buffalo Youth Lodge, Career Village in Saskatoon, and institutions of higher education in Regina and Saskatoon) are becoming a common part of the urban scene, some located on Urban Reserves. These not only meet the needs of the urban Aboriginal population, they also serve to reinforce First Nations and Métis identities within an urban context. For example, attrition of Aboriginal language use has tended to be most pronounced in urban areas: of 20,275 Saskatoon residents who identified themselves as Aboriginal in 2001, 11.8% recognized an Aboriginal language that they first learned and still understood, compared to only 4.4% of the 15,685 Aboriginal residents in Regina and 25.5% of the 130,190 Aboriginals in Saskatchewan; 8.2% in Saskatoon still spoke that language at home, compared to only 2.0% in Regina and 22.4% in the province; and 15.5% in Saskatoon claimed at least some knowledge of an Aboriginal language, compared to 7.2% in Regina and 29.4% in Saskatchewan.

Alan Anderson

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