Put out the welcome mat
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