THE CITY WITHIN
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
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.