1. Why are urban Aboriginal peoples an important group to survey?

Aboriginal Canadians (First Nations peoples, Métis, and Inuit) are the fastest growing population in Canada. 2006 Census –1.172 million identified themselves as “Aboriginal”, half of whom (one in two) reported living in urban centres.

  • One in two Aboriginal peoples in Canada now live in cities
  • The urban Aboriginal population is young and growing

Urban Aboriginal peoples are an increasingly significant social, political and economic presence in Canadian cities today – and yet relatively little is known about these individuals’ experiences and perspectives or how others view them.

2. What did this study set out to do?

The goal of the Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study is to better understand the values, identities, experiences and aspirations of Aboriginal Peoples (First Nations, M´tis and Inuit) living in Canadian cities. Findings and insights from this research are intended to establish a baseline of information on the urban Aboriginal population in Canada, prompt discussion within Aboriginal communities and between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples, and inform public policy and planning initiatives that pertain to urban Aboriginal peoples.

3. What topics did UAPS explore?

The UAPS touched on many topics. These included (but were not limited to): urban Aboriginal peoples’ communities of origin; Aboriginal cultures; community belonging; education; work; health; political engagement and activity; justice; relationships with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people; life aspirations and definitions of success; and experiences with discrimination.

4. Why is this study different from others?

We have facts and demographics about Aboriginal peoples in cities, yet relatively little is known about these individuals’ experiences and perspectives.

Previous studies have tended to view Aboriginal Canadians largely through a “problem lens” – that is, simply as targets for social services.

The UAPS sought to fully capture urban Aboriginal peoples as complex individuals and communities. In doing so we uncovered a broader range of narratives and scenarios than one typically encounters via the news and other media.

5. How is the UAPS different from the Royal Commission Report on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP)?

RCAP was a Canadian Royal Commission established in 1991 to address many issues of Aboriginal status that had come to light with recent events such as the Oka crisis and Meech Lake Accord.

The commission culminated in a final report of 4000 pages. It included a chapter on “Urban Perspectives” that began to articulate some of the experiences of Aboriginal peoples living in Canadian cities.

The UAPS stands on the shoulders of this work by RCAP. It represents the first study, across major Canadian cities, to focus exclusively on First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples living in these cities.

RCAP and the UAPS are different in scale and scope:

  • Scale – RCAP is a federally commissioned, national, 5-volume, 4000 page report. UAPS is a not-for profit research endeavour, supported by an arms-length group of sponsors, with a specific focus on First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples living in 11 Canadian cities (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax and Ottawa).
  • Scope – The Commission was given a comprehensive mandate to investigate the evolution of the relationship among Aboriginal peoples (Indian, Inuit and Métis), the Canadian government, and Canadian society as a whole, and to propose specific solutions. It explored a range of Aboriginal issues, among them treaties, economic development, health, housing, and the North.

The UAPS focuses exclusively on Aboriginal peoples living in 11 Canadian cities: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax and Ottawa. It explores their values, identities, experiences and aspirations. It aims to share these findings widely and, through a range of community engagement initiatives, assist others in understanding and interpreting the results.

Finally, the UAPS provides a more current picture of a population that has experienced substantial growth and change since the release of the RCAP report in 1996.

6.Why did the Environics Institute take on this project?

Our mission is to survey people whose voices Canadians don’t often hear. The Environics Institute has previously undertaken research projects with a range of groups: Canadian Muslims, immigrants, young Canadians, even the people of Afghanistan. When the 2006 Census data were released and indicated – a large and rapidly growing proportion of Aboriginal people in Canada were living in cities — it was clear to the leadership of the Environics Institute that some kind of research with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people living in Canadian cities was timely and important. Funding support and the support it has garnered from many parts of Aboriginal communities across the country validates that the UAPS is a study that is timely and important.

7. How is this research different from other research about Aboriginal peoples?

There is a lot of research out there, including research on Aboriginal people living in cities. But much of the research is social service based and/or locally and regionally specific. The result is that these communities are understood through the lens of some problem or need—not as complex, resilient groups. UAPS offers a new kind of picture of Aboriginal peoples in cities.

8. Do you think the study captures the full picture of urban Aboriginal people in Canada?

This study reflects a very comprehensive effort to get the full picture that spans two years, with a multi-million dollar budget, a major volunteer effort and the substantial commitment of Environics staff and resources to make happen.

It was important to capture voices from across the socio-economic spectrum, people with different levels of education, and people belonging to different identity groups (Métis, Inuit and First Nations). The UAPS research approach was designed to get as representative a picture as possible of Aboriginal men and women, those who identify as Inuit, Métis or First Nations, individuals with varying levels of education and all age groups.

9. How do you think this research will make a difference?

Large communities of people have already been touched by this process — the Advisory Circle, our Aboriginal research partners, dozens of interviewers and coordinators in the eleven cities. Then, of course, there are the 2,614 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people who took the time and exercised the generosity to talk to us. There are also the 182 National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation (NAAF) scholars, and the 2,500 non-Aboriginal Canadians who shared their perspectives.

Many people have made this study happen; our responsibility now is to make sure that this information is shared with the greatest respect for those who offered it. Ideally, the things we have learned will help people understand each other better, have better conversations, and live together better in our urban communities.

10. Who participated in the UAPS?

  • First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people living in 11 Canadian cities.
  • National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation (NAAF) Scholarship recipients. Since 1993, the NAAF had awarded over 8,400 scholarships. The recipients of these funds constituted an interesting subset of the Aboriginal population, and the Foundation was eager to know more about their past scholars.
  • The Canadian public. Since part of the study’s aim was to promote mutual understanding between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal residents of the 11 cities, it seemed appropriate to conduct a parallel study with non-Aboriginal Canadians.

11. What’s the breakdown of Aboriginal participants in the study?

In the main survey, a total of 2,614 Aboriginal individuals participated in the UAPS survey. This breaks down to 1,558 First Nations peoples, 789 Métis and 265 Inuit.

12. What cities did you capture? /Why did you choose these cities?

Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax participated in UAPS.

These cities capture a large proportion of the urban Aboriginal population. These 10 cities have a total population of 286,000, representing 46% of the urban Aboriginal census population in Canada.

Ottawa comprised the 11th city, and was added to include an important urban Inuit community.

The geographic boundary for each city was defined as the Census Metropolitan Area (CMA), and excluded urban reserves.

13. How was data collected?

More than 100 interviewers, mostly Aboriginal, spoke, with 2,614 First Nations (status and non-status) peoples, Métis and Inuit living in the eleven Canadian cities.

In-person interviews (1 – 2 hours+) were conducted with First Nations, Métis and Inuit living in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Montreal, Toronto, Halifax, and Ottawa (Inuit only).

The study also interviewed non-Aboriginal people to better understand their views of Aboriginal people in Canada and Canadian cities today.

  • A telephone survey was conducted in the spring of 2009 with 2,501 non-Aboriginal urban Canadians living in these same cities (excluding Ottawa).

Finally, UAPS also encompasses a pilot study measuring the experiences and success in the lives of 182 National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation (NAAF) Scholars who have pursued or are pursuing post-secondary education.

14. Is the UAPS representative of the Aboriginal population in Canada?

The UAPS is representative of the urban Aboriginal population in the eleven participating cities (Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Ottawa), based on the 2006 Census.

15. How did you achieve a representative sample?

There is no sampling frame available for the urban Aboriginal population. To ensure as representative a sample of urban Aboriginal peoples as possible, the 2006 Census was used to construct a profile of Aboriginal people 18 years and older in each city, based on Aboriginal identity (First Nations, Métis, Inuit), age, gender and education.

Based on the population profiles developed, quotas were established for all age, gender, education and identity groups in each city. To fill these quotas this study relied mainly on ‘snowball’ or network-based’ sampling to identify participants, tactics typically used with populations that are hard to reach.

Project coordinators and interviewers were also extremely resourceful and used a variety of methods to recruit participants, including posters, recruiting at Aboriginal events, telephone numbers for individuals to call if they wanted to participate, etc.

This approach was ultimately successful in achieving a representative sample of Aboriginal peoples in most cities, and including hard-to-reach groups of Aboriginal peoples (such as individuals who are renting a room in a rooming house or hostel, or living in a temporary shelter, or who are homeless).

16. Do you really think you reliably captured Aboriginal peoples’ responses?

The interviews were conducted in-person (not over the telephone, as is standard practice for most national research initiatives) by mainly Aboriginal interviewers. Each of the local research teams worked hard to create safe space for participants to speak freely and without fears of being judged. The success of this approach is demonstrated by the fact that many interviews went well beyond an hour in length and produced a rich and detailed set of responses from participants.

Efforts were also made at the analysis stage to ensure open-ended responses (questions where participants could answer freely) were coded in a way that captured cultural nuances. Acosys, an Aboriginal-owned and operated firm in Montreal, was retained to oversee this coding process.

17. Were Aboriginal people involved in the project?

Yes. We made this an Aboriginal research project by bringing the following groups to the table:

  • Aboriginal guides and experts (14 of our 19 Advisory Circle members are Aboriginal)
  • Two Aboriginal project managers, and Aboriginal city supervisors (9 in 12 are Aboriginal)
  • Aboriginal interviewers (a majority of our 116 interviewers are Aboriginal)
  • Aboriginal organizations, agencies and Friendship centres (community collaborators)

18. What role did the Advisory Circle play?

To demonstrate respect for First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples’ reflections on their values, experiences, identities and aspirations, an Advisory Circle of recognized experts guided the design and interpretation of the study from academia and from the Aboriginal community. (Note that Research studies often have advisory or a review “board”).

19. What do you think will be done with all the data that UAPS collected?

Those who have worked on and supported the UAPS see the data as a powerful potential starting point for a range of initiatives: ongoing organizing and capacity-building in the cities studied; dialogue among Aboriginal networks and organizations about urban realities in different parts of the country; policy discussions at all levels of government; public dialogue; and, of course, further research.