Put out the wel­come mat

Toronto Star - - WORLD -

Toronto has a proud his­tory of mak­ing vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions, such as Syr­ian refugees, wel­come. That’s one of the rea­sons it has a ded­i­cated of­fice to sup­port new­com­ers and co-or­di­nate ser­vices for them.

Sadly, that kind of wel­come mat is not ex­tended to meet the needs of First Na­tions, Métis and Inuit res­i­dents and vis­i­tors, even though they, too, face a host of chal­lenges.

That lack of sup­port for a par­tic­u­larly dis­ad­van­taged sec­tor of so­ci­ety can have dev­as­tat­ing and costly con­se­quences for First Na­tions fam­i­lies and gov­ern­ments.

For ex­am­ple, the me­dian in­come of Indige­nous res­i­dents is lower than that of other Toron­to­ni­ans. They ac­count for a scant­1per cent of the pop­u­la­tion, yet they make up 16 per cent of the home­less on city streets. And, alarm­ingly, their chil­dren are two-and-a-half times more likely to be taken from their homes and placed with foster par­ents or in group homes than are white chil­dren.

That’s why it’s so im­por­tant that Toronto city coun­cil ap­prove plans laid out by the city’s Abo­rig­i­nal Af­fairs com­mit­tee and city man­ager Peter Wal­lace for a five-per­son ded­i­cated of­fice that would sup­port the city’s 46,000 Indige­nous res­i­dents, as well as the tens of thou­sands of non-res­i­dents who come to Toronto from re­serves for health-care and job op­por­tu­ni­ties.

To do that, Wal­lace says he needs $480,000 a year plus $40,000 for a con­sul­tant to help de­velop plans for the of­fice. He should get it.

It’s not only the right thing to do; it’s the city’s obli­ga­tion. Toronto has al­ready com­mit­ted to hon­our eight pri­or­ity “Calls to Ac­tion” from the 94 con­tained in the 2015 Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion re­port. Un­less it ded­i­cates money and staff to ful­fil those com­mit­ments, they will re­main empty prom­ises.

Gov­ern­ments across Canada can’t ig­nore the legacy of res­i­den­tial schools and the re­sult­ing suf­fer­ing within Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in cities across Canada. “It’s the role of gov­ern­ment to ad­dress ac­cess to ser­vices, em­ploy­ment and eq­uity (and) in­ter­gen­er­a­tional trauma,” points out Coun­cil­lor Mike Lay­ton, who co-chairs the city’s Abo­rig­i­nal Af­fairs com­mit­tee.

Toronto is a lag­gard on this front. Van­cou­ver, Ed­mon­ton, Win­nipeg and Hamil­ton all have of­fices whose job it is to reach out to Indige­nous res­i­dents and vis­i­tors while work­ing with city de­part­ments to in­cor­po­rate their views into plans and pol­icy-mak­ing.

In the same way, a Toronto of­fice could be a step­ping stone not only to help sup­port Indige­nous peo­ples in the city, but to make sure they are in­cluded in de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

Right now, that’s al­most non-ex­is­tent. For ex­am­ple, in 2014 a study found that only eight Indige­nous peo­ple were em­ployed across the city’s vast work­force. There are no First Na­tions mem­bers on city coun­cil.

The plan to cre­ate an Abo­rig­i­nal Of­fice still needs the ap­proval of Mayor John Tory’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee and the full city coun­cil. Then it must sur­vive the city’s bud­get­ing process.

Set­ting up this of­fice is long over­due. The mayor and coun­cil­lors should make sure it be­comes a re­al­ity.

Indige­nous res­i­dents ac­count for 1 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion, yet make up 16 per cent of the city’s home­less

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