Australia’s Indigenous population up 25 percent in latest census

Australia’s latest census, released Tuesday, found the number of people identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders grew by 25 percent since the last count five years earlier.

The 2021 Census saw 812,728 people identify as being of Indigenous origin, out of a total population of about 25 million.

David Gruen, the chief statistician of Australia’s Bureau of Statistics, said the growth was not only due to more births, but “also an increase in the number of people who are self-identifying”.

Much of the increase was for children under 15, but Gruen also noted that it  was “very encouraging” to see an increase in over-65s identifying.

He said it would require further research to understand why more people were feeling comfortable identifying as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander on the census.

Demographer Andrew Taylor of Charles Darwin University said that when it comes to the question of identity change, “a lack of research exists because it is quite a sensitive topic”.

While one’s identity is a complex and personal choice, similar demographic shifts have also been recorded in Indigenous populations in other countries such as Canada, he said.

The persecution of Indigenous peoples has been braided into Australia’s history, beginning with the decimation of the population after colonisation and continuing through policies such as the forced removal of children.

Taylor said many people believed the 2010 “National Apology” to children removed from their families “helped to spur pride in people’s Aboriginal history and sense of belonging”.

Increased pride in identity, alongside Australian society becoming more tolerant, had likely led to “people, who might have in the past not identified as Indigenous,  feeling comfortable to do so”, he added.

Research conducted by Taylor and his colleagues at Charles Darwin University projected that by 2050, Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population will reach almost two million people.

He said that “as far as we can see into the future, identification change will play a major role in the growth of Indigenous populations in Australia”.

The picture of Indigenous Australia that emerged from the 2021 Census data was diverse, with 167 traditional First Nations languages spoken at home across the country.

The biggest population jumps were seen in the east coast states of New South Wales and Queensland.

“Most Indigenous Australians live in the big cities in Australia,” Taylor said.

“And that surprises people, because many still have a very colonial mindset.”