City plans aboriginal strategy

Struggles of urban natives will be priority: Councillors

By DON PEAT, SUN MEDIA

The City of Toronto is poised to have an urban aboriginal strategy in place by next year.

An update on the strategy’s development goes to city council’s executive committee this week and comes six months after Toronto Sun columnist Mark Bonokoski chronicled the struggle of urban aboriginals in a 15-part series entitled the Red Road. The special report chronicled the human consequences behind our collective failure to confront the issues facing Canada’s First Nations people.

That same month the city’s auditor general recommended the city manager report on the development of a Toronto urban aboriginal strategy by June 2009.

Kenn Richard, executive director of Native Child and Family Services, said he hopes the strategy will recognize the aboriginal community in Toronto as one with “unique characteristics and historical entitlements.”

Richard said he hopes the strategy will backup the city’s verbal commitments to “aboriginals as a priority.”

“What this protocol will do is hopefully put some teeth to some of this stuff so what’s supposed to happen in fact does,” Richard said yesterday, adding the community is under-served by programs and aboriginal infrastructure.

ALLEVIATE SOME ISSUES

“You can get a more self-determined community that will establish services and programs that will alleviate some of the issues that brought us here in the first place.”

But Richard said the key to a strategy is focusing on both the problems and strengths of urban aboriginals.

“When people think about aboriginal services they’re thinking a lot about the problems that are most obvious to the average Torontonian like homelessness … but there are other people with other aspirations that are middle-class but they’re still orientated to shaping a native community,” he said. “Most of the aboriginal infrastructure is designed for problems … but we’re building a more elaborate community than that.”

According to the staff report, the strategy will draw on research studies currently underway and discussions with community members.

The strategy will consider the development of a meaningful civic participation processes for members of Toronto’s aboriginal community, ensure they have access to municipal programs and services, utilize the capacity of the community in economic development and tourism, work with the federal and provincial governments on areas of mutual concern and create civic understanding of aboriginal culture and history as central to the city’s sense of place and identity.

The final report on the strategy is expected in June 2010.

Councillor Paula Fletcher, chairman of the city’s Aboriginal Affairs Community Advisory Committee, said the strategy will build on existing initiatives.

“I’m going to listen to the community,” Fletcher said yesterday.

“I think we’ll deepen some of the work going on, take a snapshot of what is exactly going on and look at areas that might be under-served.”

She said the municipal government can play a role in addressing problems in the aboriginal community.

“There are unresolved issues in this country and this is a very good forum to work those out,” Fletcher said.