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The aboriginal community has played an integral part in the life and development of this region for a long time. It is now part and parcel of the community of Thunder Bay and it will continue to be so as it comprises an ever growing segment of our population.
The positive economic impact of such growth was calculated at over $250 million in 1999-2000, and it is estimated to be over $500 million in 2013.
Such growth while positive in many ways, also requires proper planning with all levels of government, that is built on a relationship of mutual respect. The municipal government, being the closest to the people, is in the forefront of such relationship and in the best position to create a positive climate for win-win solutions.
The growth in the number of Aboriginal people in Thunder Bay can be separated into four areas. They are:
Part of the mainstream
The needs of each group in the areas of employment, health, education, housing, are different. While there are many Aboriginal agencies and government organizations that represent the interests of the various groups, there isn't one single coordinating body to ensure that such needs are being met.
The Aboriginal community relevance and importance to the overall viability of our city and region is too great to be left unattended. As Councillor at Large and with the support of Mayor and Council, I will continue to build on the excellent relationship I have already established with various Aboriginal groups, Chiefs, and individuals within the city and region, by building on the Aboriginal Liaison position already established, and address the Aboriginal community needs within the context of programs and initiative in the 4 priority areas of:
1. Leadership & Vision
Start a real process of inclusion and communication with the Aboriginal community.
Establish meaningful relations and partnerships with the Aboriginal community.
Create regional opportunities that will enable Aboriginal peoples to improve their quality of life.
Establish an effective and ongoing diversity forum and race relations program to meet Aboriginal peoples' cultural, linguistic and social needs, and to ensure appropriate representation at the municipal decision-making level.
2. Job Creation
Develop economic opportunities that will encourage
Aboriginal entrepreneurship and business opportunities for both Aboriginal men and women.
Promote equal access to municipal employment opportunities within city departments.
Develop and implement cross-cultural training across municipal departments and divisions with the aim of bridging gaps in hiring policies and processes.
3. Fiscal Accountability
Set-up a central information network and system to increase Aboriginal peoples' access to programs and services, and information related to Aboriginal initiatives offered by the municipality and other agencies, for example, childcare, housing, employment, etc., in order to avoid duplications and inefficiencies.
4. Health Care
Work with the Aboriginal community in ensuring their health care needs and issues are represented at the municipal level.
Assist the Aboriginal community in the advancement of health care priorities at the provincial level.
Support the implementation of cultural diversity within municipal health care programs, services and centers.
Promote positive, healthy lifestyles through public education initiatives undertaken by the municipality.
While progress has been made, Aboriginal issues need to be placed higher on the priority list of City Council and the Thunder Bay community. I fought for years to create an Aboriginal Liaison position that would help the city establish a meaningful relationship with the Aboriginal community based on mutual understanding and respect and was successful in doing so during the 2006-2010 term on Council. Much progress has been accomplished, but much more remains to be done.
Here are the facts:
There is something disturbing about the low number of Aboriginals employed at City Hall and across the city. It can't be because of lack of education and training, since hundreds every year graduate from Lakehead University and Confederation College in all fields including Business, Arts, Science, Technology, and Education.
As Councillor at Large I will continue to fully support the initiative of the Chief of Police to encourage aboriginal applicants in order to strengthen our relationship with the Aboriginal community.
Over the last 20 years I have initiated a process of relationship building between the Aboriginal leadership and the business community by facilitating a number of meetings aimed at developing a framework for win-win business opportunities. Such opportunities encompass the areas of Community Economic Development, Employment and Training, Information Technology, Education, Native Arts & Crafts, Eco-tourism, Financial Services, and will eventually branch out in other fields.
The low voter turnout of the Aboriginal community in past elections is an indication that a lot of people have not felt that their interests were properly addressed or that they could make a difference.
But things can change, and with your support on election day, Thunder Bay can finally get the leadership qualities and values that it needs to bring back its vitality, pride, and prosperity, and give all the people of this community a chance to be heard.
As Councillor at Large, I will continue to work with all orders of Government to ensure that Thunder Bay is an all inclusive city and the Aboriginal community is part and parcel of this new reality.