Fon­taine speaks of ‘poi­sons’ of racism

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - FRONT PAGE - LEN GIL­LIS

Phil Fon­taine, the for­mer chief of the Assem­bly of First Na­tions, told a Tim­mins busi­ness au­di­ence Thurs­day night that racism is one of the “poi­sons” that com­mu­ni­ties like Tim­mins can do with­out.

Fon­taine, who is widely re­garded as the el­der states­man of the Cana­dian Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity, was the key­note speaker at the an­nual gen­eral meet­ing of the Tim­mins Cham­ber of Com­merce.

Fon­taine was a three-term na­tional chief for the Assem­bly of First Na­tions. He also ne­go­ti­ated the largest le­gal set­tle­ment in Cana­dian his­tory, $5.6 bil­lion, for what is re­garded as the largest hu­man rights vi­o­la­tion in Cana­dian his­tory, the 150-year regime of res­i­den­tial schools.

As he be­gan his talk, Fon­taine ac­knowl­edged that Tim­mins falls within, or close to, the tra­di­tional lands of 16 First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties. He also ex­pressed his thanks to the Thunder Creek singers and drum group for their open­ing drum song at the meet­ing.

As a hockey fan, Fon­taine said “com­ing to Tim­mins is pretty spe­cial”. He said he was aware that some 40 out­stand­ing NHL play­ers be­gan their careers in South Porcupine, Schu­macher and Tim­mins. He spoke briefly of Dean Pren­tice and Bill Bar­ilko.

At an­other point in his talk Fon­taine re­called the story of the B.C. ferry that ran aground one stormy night af­ter leav­ing Prince Ru­pert in 2006. The ship hit an un­der­wa­ter ridge and sank.

Abo­rig­i­nal res­i­dents of nearby Hart­ley Bay re­sponded to the may­day calls that night, jump­ing into their small boats to help res­cue peo­ple in the wa­ter. Of the 101 peo­ple on the ferry, 99 were res­cued.

“Only two peo­ple per­ished that evening,” said Fon­taine.

He said peo­ple risked their lives to save oth­ers.

Fon­taine said one woman from the com­mu­nity was in­ter­viewed and asked why peo­ple would place them­selves into dan­ger for oth­ers they didn’t know.

“She said be­cause we are of one heart. We’re of one heart — mean­ing that we are all in this to­gether. There was a com­mit­ment, a shar­ing of hu­man­ity that was ev­i­dent,” he said.

“That speaks to the kind of com­mit­ment and will that we need to make a real dif­fer­ence in the lives of all our peo­ple.”

He said his time in Tim­mins that day in­cluded a tour of North­ern Col­lege as well as time spent at the Tim­mins Na­tive Friend­ship Cen­tre.

“I like what I’ve heard so far. I like the sense of spirit that seems to pre­vail in the com­mu­nity,” Fon­taine said. “And I am con­vinced that you are go­ing to bring about some ma­jor changes here that will make a dif­fer­ence not just to Tim­mins, but the In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties that border your town.”

The sub­ject of racism to­wards In­dige­nous in­di­vid­u­als in Tim­mins has been widely dis­cussed since a visit from the On­tario Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sioner Renu Mand­hane ear­lier this year. She pub­lished a re­port say­ing that “racism was per­va­sive and nor­mal­ized” for In­dige­nous peo­ple in Tim­mins.

Fon­taine said, “Racism is a dis­ease that poi­sons peo­ple. It’s a poison to com­mu­ni­ties. And there is re­ally no place for that in our com­mu­ni­ties. We just have to set it aside.

“And so that is a chal­lenge that the Cham­ber has be­fore it, the mayor, his wor­ship and his coun­cil and the com­mu­nity peo­ple that make up this place.

“I’m not sug­gest­ing you’re racist by the way,” Fon­taine said with a quick smile. “I’m not mak­ing that point. It’s just the fact that it ex­ists.”

Fon­taine said racism needs to be re­solved be­fore it gets worse be­cause Canada is be­com­ing more di­verse and world events are bring­ing more new cit­i­zens to this coun­try.

“It be­comes ever more ev­i­dent as more and more peo­ple come from other parts of the world come and join with us to make a new and bet­ter life for them­selves,” said Fon­taine

“They’re here to make a dif­fer­ence, but they can only make a dif­fer­ence if you wel­come them with open arms and say to your­self , and to your friends and fam­ily, those peo­ple are here to make a dif­fer­ence for not just them­selves, but for all of us. That is some­thing I be­lieve in and I am sure that you do as well.”

Len Gilis/ The Daily Press

Phil Fon­taine, the for­mer na­tional chief of the Assem­bly of First Na­tions, was the key­note speaker at the an­nual gen­eral meet­ing of the Tim­mins Cham­ber of Com­merce this week. He spoke briefly on the is­sue of racism, say­ing it is a poison for com­mu­ni­ties and peo­ple al­low it to carry on. Fon­taine chal­lenged the busi­ness com­mu­nity and city lead­ers to take steps to “set it aside”.

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