The Indigenous 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 $500 million in 2013 in a study done by Lakehead University and Thunder Bay Ventures.
To support such growth will require proper planning with all levels of government, that is built on trust, partnerships and relationships of mutual respect. The municipal government, being the closest to the Indigenous people, is in the best position to work together with Indigenous leaders to create a socio-economic environment that addresses the disparity and opportunities between First Nations and Metis and other citizens of Thunder Bay.
The growth in the number of Indigenous people in Thunder Bay can be separated into four areas. They are:
The needs of each group in the areas of employment, health, education, housing, are different. While there are many Indigenous 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 Indigenous community relevance and importance to the overall viability of our city and region is too great to be left unattended. Over the course of my term as Councillor at Large, the Indigenous community has expressed their interest to be a part of shaping the future of Thunder Bay.
Some highlights of my engagement regarding important issues
It was heartwarming to see the smiles of Indigenous children at the Friendship Agreement community feasts but at the same time heartbreaking knowing the challenges these children and youth face on a daily basis. We can do better and work together to bring smiles to these children on a daily basis and not just on special occasions.
On the other hand, it is heartening to engage with new Indigenous graduates and their parents and to see how proud the parents are as they share this milestone with their children.
Going forward it is important for the city to build direct relations with First Nation community Chiefs, Council and members.
Over the last year, I have had the pleasure through the Friendship Agreement of building a relationship with Chief Dinah and council of North Caribou Lake First Nation. Together we are working towards solutions that will help mitigate student safety risks which is the most important issue for First Nation parents.
I have also championed an initiative to explore how connected technology and data can play a vital role in the overall First Nation student safety strategy. The results from a eSafe Pilot Program with Windigo First Nation Council proved to be very encouraging.
The Office of Indigenous Relations
The Indigenous people with unique histories, languages, cultural practices and spiritual believes are woven into the fabric of our community. Through extensive consultation with Indigenous community leaders we will continue the journey to strengthen relations and as Mayor I envision an opportunity to work together through a renewed commitment by restructuring and expanding the mandate of the Aboriginal Liaison Office, by renaming it the Indigenous Relations Office and bringing it under the leadership of the Mayor’s office.
I would create an Indigenous Relations Advisory Committee that is comprised of Indigenous leaders along with the City Clerk and Mayor. The responsibility of this committee would be to shape an Indigenous Relations Framework (IPF) that strengthens relations, address challenges and closes the disparity gap through community-based solutions.
The purpose of the Indigenous Relations Framework is to improve the socio-economic environment through a better clarification of the roles and responsibilities of all orders of government. It will also address treaty and constitutional rights of Indigenous people. We will also draw upon the truth and reconciliation recommendations in the development of the Indigenous Relations Framework.
As Mayor, I would recommend four priority areas that address the Indigenous community needs within the context of programs and initiatives.
Start a real process of inclusion and communication with the Indigenous community.
Establish meaningful relations through consultation and partnerships with the Indigenous community.
Create regional opportunities that will enable Indigenous peoples to improve their quality of life.
Establish an effective and ongoing diversity forum and race relations program to meet Indigenous peoples’ cultural, linguistic and social needs, and to ensure appropriate representation at the municipal decision-making level.
Develop economic opportunities that will encourage a greater participation of the Indigenous people in the workforce
Indigenous entrepreneurship and business opportunities for both Indigenous 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.
Set-up a central information network and system to increase Indigenous peoples’ access to programs and services, and information related to Indigenous initiatives offered by the municipality and other agencies, for example, childcare, housing, employment, etc., in order to avoid duplication and inefficiencies.
Work with the Indigenous community in ensuring their health care needs and issues are represented at the municipal level.
Assist the Indigenous community in the advancement of healthcare 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, Indigenous 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 Office that would help the city establish a meaningful relationship with the Indigenous 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:
The most recent equity employment survey indicates that the city has been successful in hiring and employing over 10 percent of it’s workforce as self-declared Indigenous people. With the increasing number of Indigenous people graduating every year from Lakehead University and Confederation College in all fields including Business, Arts, Science, Technology, and Education, the rest of the Thunder Bay employers should be encouraged to also do an annual equity employment survey to ensure that we are tapping into this emerging human capital especially at time of aging workforce and skilled labour.
As Mayor, I will continue to fully support the initiative of the Chief of Police to encourage Indigenous applicants in order to strengthen our relationship with the Indigenous community.
Over the last 20 years, I have initiated a process of relationship building between the Indigenous 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 Indigenous 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 Mayor, I will continue to work with all orders of Government to ensure that Thunder Bay is an all-inclusive city and the Indigenous community is part and parcel of this new reality.