Indigenous peoples in Canada

The indigenous peoples of Canada are collectively referred to as “Aboriginal peoples”.

The Constitution Act, 1982 of Canada recognizes three groups of Aboriginal peoples: Indians, Inuit and Métis.

According to the 2011 National Household Survey, 1,400,685 people in Canada had an Aboriginal identity, representing 4.3 percent of the total Canadian population.

First Nations (referred to as “Indians” in the Constitution and generally registered under Canada’s Indian Act ) are a diverse group, representing more than 600 First Nations and more than 60 languages.

851,560 people identified as a First Nations person, representing 60.8 percent of the total Aboriginal population and 2.6 percent of the total Canadian population.

Around 55 percent live on-reserve and 45 percent reside off-reserve in urban, rural, special access and remote areas.

The Inuit number 60,000 people, or 4.3 percent of the Aboriginal population. They live in 53 Arctic communities in four Land Claims regions:

The Métis constitute a distinct Aboriginal nation, numbering 451,795 in 2011, many of whom live in urban centres, mostly in western Canada. The Métis people emerged out of the relations of Indian women and European men prior to Canada’s crystallization as a nation. 


Canada’s Constitution Act, 1982 recognizes and affirms the existing Aboriginal and Treaty rights of Aboriginal peoples. The Supreme Court has called the protection of these rights “an important underlying constitutional value”  and “a national commitment”.  Canada’s highest Court has called for reconciliation of “pre-existing aboriginal sovereignty with assumed Crown sovereignty”. 

Canada has never proved that it has legal or de jure sovereignty over indigenous peoples' territories, which suggests that Canada is relying on the racist doctrine of discovery 

On 12 November 2010, the Canadian government announced its endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which was passed by the UN General Assembly in September 2007.

This decision comes as a reversal of Canada's earlier opposition to the declaration, which it had pursued together with Australia, the USA and New Zealand, which all have since revised their attitude towards the Declaration (you can find the official statement of the endorsement here)

Canada has not ratified ILO Convention 169.

Yearly Update

Download the 2016 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in Canada to learn about major developments and events during 2015.