Ken­neth Bomberry walks two worlds. Born a Mo­hawk on Six Na­tions, he now lives in the city, where he feels cut off from his cul­ture. He is one of thou­sands of indige­nous peo­ple liv­ing in Hamil­ton. Now a new city man­ager is lead­ing ef­forts to un­der­stand the

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - TEVIAH MORO

HE LAMENTS not be­ing as flu­ent in his an­ces­tral tongue as he once was. He feels dis­lodged from his cul­ture. He bat­tles neg­a­tive stereo­types. He’s mis­un­der­stood.

“If you were to ask any indige­nous per­son in Hamil­ton about racism or stereo­types, I guar­an­tee they will tell you a story.”

Therein, of course, lies the irony: Bomberry, 18, isn’t a new­comer. He’s Mo­hawk, with lo­cal roots far deeper than most of us can claim.

He’s one of thou­sands of Hamil­ton res­i­dents who are indige­nous. The city wants their feed­back as it lays the ground­work for what will be its first ur­ban indige­nous strat­egy.

The idea is to make the city a bet­ter place for its indige­nous res­i­dents by ap­ply­ing some of the 94 “calls to ac­tion” in the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion’s fi­nal re­port of 2015.

The rec­om­men­da­tions — meant to ad­dress the trauma caused by res­i­den­tial schools and en­cour­age rec­on­cil­i­a­tion — cover a num­ber of so­ci­etal cor­ner­stones, in­clud­ing child welfare, ed­u­ca­tion, jus­tice, health, lan­guage and cul­ture, and treaty rights.


OUT WHAT these calls to ac­tion mean to Hamil­ton’s indige­nous com­mu­nity is up to Shylo El­mayan.

She’s the city’s new se­nior project man­ager tasked with lead­ing the devel­op­ment of the ur­ban indige­nous strat­egy.

“We want to be able to hear from as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble about their ex­pe­ri­ences, and how our shared his­tory af­fects them and their fam­ily, and their mo­ti­va­tions and their hopes.”

A re­port by the Hamil­ton So­cial Plan­ning and Re­search Coun­cil noted that ac­cord­ing to a 2011 Na­tional House­hold Sur­vey, about 15,840 of Hamil­ton res­i­dents were of abo­rig­i­nal de­scent. The study found that indige­nous res­i­dents had lower lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion than the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, ex­pe­ri­enced a higher rate of poverty and were over­rep­re­sented among the city’s home­less.

El­mayan, who be­gan her 18-month post in De­cem­ber, is re­luc­tant to pre­sume what feed­back she’ll re­ceive, but of­fers a thought­ful guess.

“I ex­pect they’re go­ing to tell us a lot about the chal­lenges that re­late to poverty or un­em­ploy­ment, look­ing for more op­por­tu­ni­ties to have their voices heard, re­flected through the city, rais­ing the pro­file.”

Bomberry wants more op­por­tu­ni­ties for youth to ex­pe­ri­ence their cul­ture, whether it’s through medicine walks along the Bruce Trail, smudg­ing cer­e­monies, pow­wows or sweat lodges for pa­tients at city hos­pi­tals.

The John A. Macdon­ald high school grad­u­ate — who also lived on Six Na­tions — is ea­ger to be pro­fi­cient in Mo­hawk, as well.

“I used to be able to speak flu­ent

“Liv­ing in the city, I see that too. There are a lot of peo­ple who just don’t know. It’s not that they’re closed-minded; they grow up not know­ing who they are, not know­ing where they come from.” KEN­NETH BOMBERRY

Mo­hawk when I was lit­tle, and grow­ing up in the city, I’ve lost my lan­guage. But I still re­mem­ber sen­tences and words,” he says dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view at the Hamil­ton Regional In­dian Cen­tre on Ot­tawa Street North.

Cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion, he sug­gests, can lead to bet­ter self­aware­ness and stronger self-worth. Bomberry — who has fa­cial pierc­ings and wears dark lip­stick and makeup — re­called be­ing bul­lied be­cause he “didn’t fit the bill” on Six Na­tions.

He doesn’t blame his tor­men­tors but chalks it up to their lack of self­aware­ness and the in­ter­gen­er­a­tional trauma passed on by decades of abuse in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s church-run res­i­den­tial schools.

“Liv­ing in the city, I see that too,” he says. “There are a lot of peo­ple who just don’t know. It’s not that they’re closed-minded; they grow up not know­ing who they are, not know­ing where they come from.”

Sh­eryl Green knows some­thing about that.

When Green was a girl, her grand­mother moved with her from Six Na­tions to the city to of­fer her a life apart from the stigma as­so­ci­ated with life on the re­serve.

“She didn’t want me as­so­ci­ated with the ‘typ­i­cal In­dian,’” she says. “So that was her way of pro­tect­ing me.”

But Green, 43, says she missed out as a re­sult.

Nowa­days, Green says, many Crown wards she helps tran­si­tion to in­de­pen­dent lives at the Ot­tawa Street North cen­tre strug­gle with their iden­tity, hav­ing grown up in non-na­tive fos­ter homes.

“A lot of times, they have this sense of loss of iden­tity: Who am I? Where do I come from?”

This can lead to re­sent­ment of par­ents and of the so­ci­ety around them, Green says.

That’s why ser­vice providers should un­der­stand indige­nous cul­ture and his­tory, in­clud­ing the dev­as­tat­ing echoes of col­o­niza­tion, the In­dian Act and res­i­den­tial schools, she says.

“Even though the youth may not have been raised by their par­ents, those trau­mas are still there.”

El­mayan says ed­u­cat­ing pub­lic ser­vants about indige­nous cul­ture and his­tory will be a “key area” to look at for the city’s strat­egy.

Ken­neth Bomberry, 18, was born on Six Na­tions but lives in Hamil­ton now. He sees ways to make life bet­ter for indige­nous peo­ple in the city.

Shylo El­mayan, the city’s new man­ager for its first ur­ban indige­nous strat­egy.

Sh­eryl Green works with young abo­rig­i­nal youth at the Hamil­ton Regional In­dian Cen­tre on Ot­tawa Street North.

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