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FORUM (Nov. 2017): Establishing a new Indigenous Affairs Office

November 24th, 2017 · No Comments

A dedication to reconciliation and Aboriginal issues

By Joe Cressy and Mike Layton

We gratefully acknowledge that the City of Toronto is located on the traditional lands of the Ojibwa, Hodenosaunee, and the Huron Wendat and is part of the Treaty Lands and Territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit.

These words we hear at the beginning of public gatherings and morning announcements in our schools mean something important that goes far beyond mere recognition. By making this acknowledgement, we are recognizing that there were people who stood here before us. We are recognizing the stewards of the land before colonization and the respect that recognition commands.

We must let go of our contemporary understanding of who we are as Canadians and accept that we are guests in someone else’s house.

This respect involves a responsibility on the part of all of us to do something that is difficult — be ready for change from business as usual.

We must let go of our contemporary understanding of who we are as Canadians and accept that we are guests in someone else’s house. That the arrival of some of our ancestors caused irreversible damage to

lives and an entire culture (or more correctly, many cultures). Broken treaties, residential schools, racism, and discrimination led to intergenerational damage that persists today. We must be willing to change our societal structures so we can better address the generations of injustice. We must be open to the difficult discussions that come with reconciliation and rebuilding trust among all people of Canada. We must be willing to make meaningful change to address the inequality that generations of unjust treatment of Indigenous people has resulted in today.

Don’t be alarmed by the enormity of the task. All long journeys begin with some small first steps. We begin with the acknowledgement and the commitment to start listening to our partners in reconciliation from the Indigenous community for help along this journey.

At Toronto City Council, the next step in our journey comes from the work done by the Aboriginal Affairs Advisory Committee, which has for decades been asking for a distinct and independent Aboriginal-led office at City Hall, dedicated to reconciliation and Aboriginal issues. After decades of inaction, next week at executive committee this step in our shared journey will be closer to reality.

Why is an Indigenous Office important in Toronto? An office gives distinction, independence, and resourced action. Distinction raises the profile among the public service, giving it a stronger voice. Independence provides an undiluted voice so other priorities don’t take away from their important work, and resources allow for action that wasn’t possible before.

The City Manager arrived at the recommendation to form this office by speaking with members of Toronto’s Indigenous community, and by hiring a consultant experienced in Aboriginal affairs and organizations. The City Manager is proposing that the new Indigenous Affairs Office report directly to him — the top bureaucrat in the City of Toronto — giving this office the broadest possible reach and influence.

The implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action in the City of Toronto and the fulfilment of the city’s own Statement of Commitment create the basis on which the Indigenous Affairs Office will operate.

The stated goals in the reports detail what we need to work towards and focus on in addressing the intergenerational struggles faced by Aboriginal people in our city.

The office will work to address the struggles that stem from the many injustices Aboriginal peoples have faced, working towards a shared prosperity and understanding for all.

We thank the Aboriginal Affairs Advisory Committee for its continued activism to make this office a reality and we are proud to have participated in bringing this proposal to City Council.

Mike Layton and Joe Cressy are city councillors for wards 19 and 20 (Trinity-Spadina) and co-chair and member, respectively, of the Aboriginal Affairs Advisory Committee.



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