Some Canadians seem to think Indigenous Peoples mostly dwell in far-flung remote reserves.
But in fact the majority of indigenous people live in Canada’s cities, and according to the latest census, off-reserve First Nations, Métis and Inuit are the fastest-booming populations in the whole country.
According to the 2011 National Household Survey, 56 percent of aboriginal people live in the country’s urban areas. Indian Country Today Media Network took a look at the top five cities for indigenous people. Just as in the U.S., there were some surprises.
Number 5: Calgary, Alberta
For more than 100 years, the Calgary Stampede has made the one-million-resident city famous each July with its annual rodeo festival. But from the launch of the Stampede in 1912, First Nations have always been a prominent feature of the celebrations, particularly through the event’s Indian Village, which sees Treaty 7 First Nations—the Nakoda, Kainai, Siksika, Peigan, Piikani and Tsuu Tina—raise tipis on-site and showcase dances, games and other cultural celebrations for a million visitors a year.
Today Calgary is home to 33,370 aboriginal people, according to the 2011 census, with a particularly high population of Métis, aboriginal people with mixed settler and First Nations ancestry. The Métis have their own language, heritage and cultural identity. In fact the province of Alberta has the highest population of Métis people in all of Canada.
Number 4: Toronto, Ontario
On the shores of Lake Ontario, Toronto is Canada’s largest city, the fourth largest in North America. It’s the capital of Ontario, a sprawling province with the highest total number of aboriginal people in the country—more than 300,000.
Nearly 37,000 aboriginal people call Toronto their home. The 2.4-million inhabitant city is located on the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat, a confederacy of five Iroquoian-speaking communities who were renowned as extensive traders and farmers, and relied on fish, squash, corn and beans for their livelihood. There were up to a dozen villages in the Greater Toronto area before colonization in the 17th century.
The name “Toronto” is believed to be from a Mohawk word meaning “trees standing in water.” Likewise, “Ontario” is likely from a Huron word meaning “beautiful lake.”
Number 3: Vancouver, British Columbia
More than 52,000 people of Métis, First Nations or Inuit ancestry call this rainy West Coast city home, and it’s hard to ignore the major impact and presence of indigenous culture in the area. British Columbia has more First Nations than any other province, but nonetheless almost none of the province is covered by historic treaties with the government to share the land.
As a result, B.C., made up of more than five percent aboriginal residents, has historically been on the frontline in the fight to protect indigenous territories and land title, including a recent landmark victory in the Supreme Court of Canada.
In June the leadership of the 600,000-inhabitant City of Vancouver passed a declaration that it “was founded on the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations and that these territories were never ceded through treaty, war or surrender.”
The resolution was part of a Year of Reconciliation marked by City Hall, which at its apex drew 70,000 people to the streets to support indigenous rights.
Number 2: Edmonton, Alberta
In second place for the largest population of First Nations, Métis and Inuit is another Alberta city, Edmonton, the provincial capital. The 800,000-resident city has an aboriginal population of 61,765 according to the 2011 census.
The city is also headquarters to the country’s largest aboriginal-run newspaper franchise, the Aboriginal Multi Media Society of Alberta, including Windspeaker newspaper. The city passed an Edmonton Urban Aboriginal Accord in hopes of strengthening historically strained relationships with indigenous people, including an acknowledgement that “we reside on Treaty Six territory.”
But before it was called Edmonton, the area was known by the Cree people as Amiskwaciy, or Beaver Hills. A central meeting place for treaty making, ceremonies and trade, the site was also called Pehonan, which translates as “the gathering or waiting place.”
Number 1: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Located close to the very heart of Canada’s landmass, the prairie city of Winnipeg is home to both the total highest aboriginal population in the country—78,420 out of the city’s 663,617 people—and also the highest per capita proportion indigenous residents, or nearly 12 percent of the population.
“Winnipeg” means “muddy water” in Cree, and as a whole the province of Manitoba is nearly 17 percent indigenous. That is the highest percentage indigenous of any Canadian province, although it is dwarfed by the high concentrations of aboriginal people in the northern territories of Nunavut, Northwest Territories and the Yukon.
More people with First Nations status—25,970 in total—live in Winnipeg than in any other Canadian city. The town is headquarters of the influential Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), which launched in 1992 and today has spread to cover indigenous news nationwide.
Winnipeg is also home to the highest concentration of Métis people in the country, making up roughly 6.3 percent of the urban population. It’s the site of the newly opened Canadian Museum of Human Rights, which features exhibits on aboriginal history and indigenous rights, though it has come under fire for refusing to label Canada’s policies as “genocide.” The museum’s opening was met with a boycott by the award-winning electronic band A Tribe Called Red and criticism from Buffy Sainte-Marie—not to mention a nearby First Nation declaring its substandard living conditions a “Canadian Museum of Human Rights Violations.”
Manitoba is the home and final resting place of 19th century Métis leader Louis Riel, who helped launch several armed rebellions and is today called the “founder of Manitoba.” His execution by Canada sparked angry protests across the country and hero status among many aboriginal people—and in 2007 Manitoba declared a new provincial holiday “Riel Day” in his honor.
This story was originally published on November 4, 2014.