Demographics & Population Forecasting

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Client: Multiple
Task: Comprehensive Community Plan Land Use Plan Strategic Plan Economic Development Planning Policy Development Integrated Sustainable Community Plan
Skills: Statistical Analysis Population Forecasting Policy Development

Demography – Planning for People

Population projections are typically used to anticipate housing or infrastructure needs. We have worked with a number of communities to provide population estimates for Population Forecasting Reports and Capital Planning Studies. 

An example is the forecast of the population of Curve Lake First Nation that was used in their Comprehensive Community Plan to understand the land-use and infrastructure ramifications.

However, we have also been asked to explore the social, environmental, and cultural aspects of population dynamics.  In the Town of Minto, we used population forecasts to determine the impact of community growth.  Having gone through an amalgamation, they wished to expand their tax-base to help meet fiscal responsibilities.   The current rate of growth was used to project the population out 10 years to contrast it with other population targets.  These growth scenarios were used to calculate the Ecological Footprint of such expansion.  This analysis provided several growth options for their Integrated Sustainability Community Plan.  Each option had a corresponding implication for how the landscape is used and for the design of the built-environment.

Population Ecological Impact

Another issue we have examined is that of Edbendaagozidjig or “those who belong”.  Rama First Nation retained us to analyse research on the impact of federal legislation on their demographic profile.  As well, we examined the citizenship approaches of other communities, consulted with community elders and staff, and prepared a draft Membership Code for consideration by the community.

By the turn of the millennium, many First Nation communities began to worry about the status of their children.  It was becoming apparent that babies born into the community were no longer going to be officially recognised as Aboriginal by the federal government.  Conventional population projections, while useful for planning physical infrastructure, do not capture the cultural complexity of a population that is slowly being legislated out of existence.

Demographics - Population Forecasting

While working at the Ogemawahj Tribal Council we developed a population forecasting model to account for unique demographic factors not found in typical projections.  These include the fact that people have different degrees of status (“6.1”, “6.2” and “Non”); only parents with status can increase the status population, so “fertility” rates apply to both men and women; parents may have the option of registering children in a different community than the one they live in.  Building upon the seminal work of Stewart Clatworthy in First Nation demography and with the assistance of John FitzSimmons from the University of Guelph we designed a forecasting model that dealt with these complexities. 

Degree Of Status

The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs requested that we examine the implications of evolving federal legislation for specific First Nations and reported them as the Community Impact Assessment of Bill C-31.  There are a number of facets to understanding a community’s population within a First Nation context), but the most salient official factors are Section 6.1 and Section 6.2 of the Indian Act.  These characterise native peoples according to various levels of full or partial “Indian Status”.  The significance of this is the eventual extinction of Aboriginal communities, not as people but as distinct populations.

Degree Of Status

We have endeavoured to inform First Nations about the implications of our research.  Plan Canada, published “Defining Aboriginal Populations: The Forecasting and Planning Challenge”, which described some of the details of our work.  At the national E-dbendaagzijig “Those Who Belong” First Nation Citizenship and Status Conference in Toronto, we had the privilege to present “Determining who will be in your Community: An Assessment Tool”.  The organisers also provided our model to attendees who wished to attempt projections on their own.  We were requested by the Union of Ontario Indians to present “Uncovering the Future: An Improved Tool for Studying First Nation Demographics” at their Gathering Strength Conference in Atikameksheng Anishnawbek (WLFN), Ontario.  Later this information was referenced in an article: “Legislated to death: Feds splitting up the Nation using fractions of Nish blood” (Anishinabek News; February 2000).  We provided a response letter to the editor to ensure that key concepts we used were clarified so that outdated assumptions did not colour any interpretation of our results.  

Why is Native Demography Unique?

Indigenous populations around the world tend to be younger, and are therefore growing faster, than the general population of the societies within which they live.  Increasing awareness and self-identification have also bolstered numbers.  As many as 1.3 million people in Canada have reported indigenous ancestry (StatsCan, 2016). But in Canada, government policy has been to avoid the recognition of Aboriginal peoples as much as possible and foster their assimilation.  In the North, Inuit populations were small, dispersed, and on lands the wider society took no special interest in until the mid-20th century.  Métis populations were also relatively small, but their presence was more prominent given their pivotal role in the fur-trade.  But after quelling two rebellions in the wake of the late-19th century expansion of Canadian interests, the government was simply able to ignore populations defined by mixed ancestry.  A more deliberate approach was taken with First Nations.

First Nations

It began with the pre-Confederation drafting of the Gradual Civilisation Act of 1857, which was then reprised post-Confederation as the 1869 Gradual Enfranchisement Act.  These offered citizenship rights to any native man and his descendants who renounced Aboriginal and Treaty rights.  Virtually, no one accepted the offer.  This was followed up by the passage of the Indian Act in 1876.  Under this Act, the attempt at assimilation shifted focus.  Native women who married non-native men lost their status as “Indians”. So did all her descendants.  No similar provision applied to native men.  In fact, any non-native wife gained status as an “Indian”. However, in 1951 the Act was revised to include a “double-mother” clause, depriving native men of status if both their mother and grandmother were not “Indians”.

Under pressure from the United Nations, Bill C-31 was introduced in 1985 to rectify the bias against women who married non-native men, as well as rescind the “double-mother” clause. However, the application of the 1985 revisions was proactive, not retroactive. Women did regain full status under section 6.1 of the new Act, but their children only regained status under the partial provisions of the new section 6.2.  It took the Supreme Court case brought by Sharon McIvor to treat children born before 1985 the same as if they had a status father.  In effect, the discrimination date was pushed back to 1951.  This was enshrined in Bill C-3, 2010 (Kielland and Tiedemann, 2017).

None-the-less, the Bill did not address the issue of the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of those women who lost their status. Further pressure was brought by the Supreme Court cases of Stephane Descheneaux so that grandchildren became eligible for full status under section 6.1 and great-grandchildren became eligible under section 6.1 or 6.2 of the Act.   These changes were enshrined in the Bill S-3, 2017   (Kielland and Tiedemann, 2017). The Senate, in its deliberations, had proposed to abolish all distinctions or what was dubbed “6.1 (a), all-the-way”, but the Commons feared the changes would be overwhelming. The government’s response was two-fold.  It made immediate changes to address the cousins, siblings, minors, and those of unknown or unstated parentage (Gehl, 2017) excluded under the Indian Act.   Thus the amendments brought about by S-3 restored status to children who lost it after their birth due to the fact that their mothers had lost status and to girls born out of wedlock to native fathers (Government of Canada, 2018).

These revisions to the Indian Act have sought redress for the lingering lost status of women and their descendants from the discrimination period of 1951 to 1985.  As many as 150,000 regained status under Bill C-31, 1985, 37,000 were eligible under Bill C-3, 2010, and 28,000 to 35,000 became eligible under Bill S-3, 2017 (Kielland and Tiedemann, 2017).  However, the government’s second response to the “6.1 (a), all-the-way” proposal was to delay such an amendment while undertaking a comprehensive consultation on Indian registration, band membership, and First Nation citizenship.  What the delayed amendment of Bill S-3 proposes is to push the discrimination date back to that of the 1869 Gradual Enfranchisement Act.  This would create 670,000 potential registrants under the Indian Act, though only 270,000 are estimated to eventually regain status (Government of Canada, 2018). 

None-the-less, while these will increase the potential number of status individuals, the extinction mechanism embedded in the Act since 1951, remains firmly in place.  The 1985 amendments contained what could be called a “double-parent” clause (see diagram above), or second generation cut-off.  Status extinction is still achieved, but through either parent after two successive generations of “out-marriage”.  The government has promised to consult on this issue, along with remaining reasons for exclusion (adoption, enfranchisement, Canada-U.S. border, etc.), and whether status recognition should be devolved to First Nations.


For the Inuit, recognition by Canada has always been unclear.  In many pre-Confederation documents they were referred to as “Indians”.  Did that make them wards of the state?   The question was less than pressing, since there were no Treaties to honour, no Reserves to administer, no tax-relief to be granted.  Were they then simply citizens?  The Inuit were never asked.  Official concern only arose in the early-20th century, as their traditional lifestyle became less viable.  Responsibility varied between federal, provincial, and territorial authority depending on location and circumstance.  In 1924, the Indian Act was amended to make Inuit the responsibility of the Department of Indian Affairs.  However, an Order-in-Council transferred them to the Ottawa-based Northwest Territories Council in 1928 and in 1930 the previous amendment was repealed.  Yet, in the Re Eskimo (1939) case, the Supreme Court agreed with the Quebec government that Inuit were Indians under Section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867.  Coinciding with the arrival of the 1941 census, officials began issuing E (Eskimo)-numbers to Inuk on small disks for administrative purposes (health, welfare, education, etc.).  But with the 1951 amendments to the Indian Act, they were once again specifically removed from this legislation.  In the early 1970s the increasing adoption of surnames was formalised and the number system abandoned.  Though responsible for administering Inuit matters, no definition of “Inuk” was standardised nor was any registry drawn up by the federal government.  Since that time Comprehensive Land Claims have been negotiated across the North.  Those that belong to these agreements have been characterised by various combinations of self-definition and community recognition, ancestry and custom, birth or adoption, residency in the territory, and Canadian citizenship.  (Bonesteel, 2006; INAC, 1993)

Métis & Non-status Indians

Though the Métis have successfully struggled with provincial governments to exercise Aboriginal rights, it was only in 1982 that they gained federal recognition as Aboriginal peoples.   Métis leader, Harry Daniels, negotiated this recognition through the constitutional patriation process.  Even so, the government in Ottawa still argued that Métis were not a federal responsibility.  Thus in 1999, Harry Daniels and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples took the government to court.   In 2016, the Supreme Court finally ruled that Métis and Non-status Indians were “Indians” under section 91(24) of the Constitution Act of 1867.  This meant that federal government now has a fiduciary duty towards 600,000 more citizens.  Since they are Aboriginal peoples, it has an obligation to negotiate with them and to consult on their rights.  Of interest here were the comments by Justice Rosalie Abella on those who belong: “There is no consensus on who is considered Metis or a non-status Indian, nor need there be. Culture and ethnic labels do not lend themselves to neat boundaries.”  (Jackson, 2016; the Canadian Encyclopedia, 2018)

Whether such comments represent a death knell for the assimilation project or not, remains to be seen.  But they strongly suggest that the attempt to minimise who has access to Treaty and Aboriginal Rights is no longer an appropriate policy.  The courts have consistently upheld the Honour of the Crown over fiscal expediency.  They have defended “a protectorate relationship with indigenous peoples” because they were not conquered (Delgamuukw, 1997).  They have upheld these rights and extended these rights to all who have a legitimate claim to them.