Backgrounder - Update of the Community Well-Being (CWB) Index

The Community Well-Being (CWB) Index was developed by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) to help measure the quality of life of First Nations and Inuit communities in Canada relative to other communities and over time.

While poorer socio-economic conditions are frequently highlighted for First Nations and Inuit populations, until recently researchers did not have an efficient means of analyzing differences in well-being between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians or across First Nations and Inuit communities.

This tool uses Statistics Canada's Census of Population data to produce 'well-being' scores for individual Canadian communities based on indicators of education, income, labour force activity and housing to measure the well-being of First Nation, Inuit and other Canadian communities.

These scores are used to compare well-being across First Nations and Inuit communities with well-being in other Canadian communities.

The Canadian Census of Population is the most complete source of data available for most Canadian communities, including First Nations and Inuit communities. Because the census is conducted every five years, the data can be compared across time to reveal the evolution of socio-economic well-being.

With the development of the CWB Index, researchers at Indian and Northern Affairs Canada have tried to overcome the limitations of previous analytical methods and models. Specifically, INAC designed the CWB to fulfill four main objectives:

  1. to provide a systematic, reliable summary measure of socio-economic well-being for nearly all Canadian communities;

  2. to illustrate variations in well-being across First Nations and Inuit communities and how it compares to that of other Canadian communities;

  3. to allow for well-being to be tracked over time; and

  4. to be able to be combined with other data to facilitate a wide variety of research on the factors associated with well-being.

“Well-being” means different things to different people. For some, well-being includes health, wealth and happiness. For many First Nations and Inuit communities, well-being includes culture and language. Some of these indicators are easier to measure than others and, over the years, a lot of data have been collected. Only the Census of Canada, however, provides data that can be used to fulfill the four main objectives listed above. Because the Census contains only a limited number of variables related to well-being, the CWB cannot capture all aspects of well-being.

The CWB Index is an important step towards a deeper understanding of the factors that impact socio-economic well-being in First Nations and Inuit communities. The information it provides can be used to enhance the well-being of First Nations and Inuit communities in Canada. To find effective ways to improve the well-being of Aboriginal people, it is important to know where and how improvements in quality of life have been achieved and where significant disparities still exist.

For the purposes of the CWB Index, communities are defined in terms of Census subdivisions with a population larger than 65 individuals. Census subdivisions are municipalities or their equivalent (e.g., Indian reserves, Indian settlements). They are classified as First Nations, Inuit or other Canadian communities so that well-being in these different types of communities can be compared.

Inuit communities are not legally defined by INAC, but Inuit have settled four land claims across Canada's North. These four regions include Nunatsiavut, Nunavik, Nunavut and the Inuvialuit region, and are known as Inuit Nunangat (place where Inuit live). For purposes of the CWB, Inuit communities are defined as those communities within any of these four regions with a population large enough to allow analysis.

This new release of the CWB Index is different from the original CWB previously released in 2004 because of changes to the methods of calculation, leading to a revision of all Aboriginal and non-aboriginal community scores. Note that because of these modifications, this release of the CWB index is not comparable to previous releases.