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  • Aboriginal Populations: Social, Demographic, and Epidemiological Perspectives ed. by Frank Trovato and Anatole Romaniuk
  • Bali Ram
Frank Trovato and Anatole Romaniuk, eds. Aboriginal Populations: Social, Demographic, and Epidemiological Perspectives. University of Alberta Press. xxvi, 550. $44.99

This volume, edited by two Canadian demographers, Frank Trovato and Anatole Romaniuk, constitutes a major contribution to the literature on Aboriginal demography. As the editors state in the introduction, this volume attempts “to provide an up-to-date account of the social demography of the Canadian Aboriginal population based on historical and recent data.” Superbly rich in data, the collection is a highly informative and readable compendium of historical facts about the Aboriginal population in Canada and several industrialized countries. Thus, the volume succeeds in meeting its primary goal to a large extent, although it suffers from the usual problem of volumes arising out of symposia: unevenness.

The book starts off with a comprehensive overview of the subject, which sets its analytical tone. The nineteen articles that follow are grouped into four parts. The first part includes articles written mostly by demographers who have spent a substantial period of their career at Statistics Canada. By virtue of having been insiders, the authors of these articles are knowledgeable about data-quality issues in the census—the major source of information on the Aboriginal population—and therefore are cautious when drawing conclusions. A dominant theme emanating from these articles that is of particular interest to researchers and policy-makers is “ethnic mobility.” It is asserted that the recent large growth of the Aboriginal population is partly due to ethnic mobility resulting from intermarriage, the reinstatement of Aboriginal women who had lost their native status as a result of marriage to non-Aboriginal men, and the increased propensity for better-educated Aboriginal people to declare their ethnic identity. It is possible, therefore, that recent improvements in the socio-economic conditions of Aboriginal people as a whole and the Metis in particular are largely due to ethnic mobility rather than to [End Page 311] various programs and policies aimed at improving their socio-economic status and well-being. This is an important observation that requires further rigorous analysis.

The second part of the book deals with epidemiological aspects of the Aboriginal population; this is largely confined to discussion of alcoholism, suicide, and socio-economic disparities in health behaviours. Some discussion on the causes of death, correlates of physical and mental health, and availability of health care services would have been valuable to researchers and policy-makers. The third part, on sociological perspectives, is also somewhat narrow in scope. Some discussion on the effects of Aboriginal peoples’ socio-economic status and their position in the Canadian socioeconomic hierarchy on demographic and health outcomes would have been helpful in elucidating this complex perspective. The fourth and final part of the book consists of papers on the Aboriginal population in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Russia. A common thread and a refreshing fact about these articles is that they focus on the linkages between demographic and socio-economic variables.

I see three major limitations of this volume. First, it lacks in a detailed analysis of the socio-economic characteristics of the Aboriginal population. Learning about the sheer number of people and their demographic characteristics is important, but learning about other characteristics such as education, income, occupation, labour force participation, employment, housing, and neighbourhoods would have been more useful from the policy point of view. Second, the volume remains highly descriptive, with limited explanations. How demographic and socio-economic changes affect one another is discussed only in passing. Third, there is a serious lack of analysis based on individual-level data, although public-use microdata files from censuses and the Aboriginal Peoples Survey have become readily available. In the absence of multivariate analyses based on individual-level data, it becomes difficult to disentangle the underlying mechanisms through which the physical and social environment and public policy affect demographic and health behaviours.

Despite these shortcomings, this collection is a welcome addition to the Canadian demographic literature. As a synthesis of the current knowledge on the subject, it will prove to be an important and useful resource to scholars...


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