News / Toronto

Indigenous Affairs Office will offer chance to address pressing issues: Community

With everything from homelessness to placemaking in need of attention, Ryerson University consultant says if the office gets approval, it is "going to be extremely busy."

The city permanently placed Indigenous flags from five First Nations in front of city hall earlier this year to commemorate Toronto’s location on Indigenous traditional land. It’s considered one of the first toward many promised steps toward reconciliation.

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The city permanently placed Indigenous flags from five First Nations in front of city hall earlier this year to commemorate Toronto’s location on Indigenous traditional land. It’s considered one of the first toward many promised steps toward reconciliation.

Members of Toronto's Indigenous community are hopeful the creation of an Indigenous Affairs Office at city hall will address some of the pressing issues they're facing.

The city's Aboriginal Affairs Committee unanimously endorsed a staff report Friday recommending the office be established. If the plan gets support from the Executive Committee later this month and then city council, Toronto will follow in the footsteps of Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Hamilton, which have similar units.

The new office is expected to include four positions and a consultant and would report directly to the city manager. The position of a consultant on Indigenous affairs has been vacant since July, when Lindsay Kretschmer resigned and filed a human-rights complaint. According to the office of equity, diversity and human rights, a new consultant has already been hired and will start on Nov. 20.

Among the issues the community wants to see addressed are:

Poverty and homelessness

More than 30 per cent of Toronto's homeless population identifies as Indigenous, according to Wigwamen Incorporated, a charity that focuses on urban Indigenous housing issues. Tracey King, Aboriginal human-resources consultant at Ryerson University, said deteriorating health conditions and a lack of education make the situation worse. "This office is going to be extremely busy," she said.

Youth/Children

The city has only one Indigenous-led child-care provider, where children up to six years old can learn Cree and Ojibway. The city is already working on increasing early years centres for Indigenous families, but community members think having the devoted Indigenous affairs office will speed up the process. They also hope the office can spotlight youth suicide, an issue plaguing many Indigenous communities and which advocates in Toronto have been highlighting for a long time.

Acceptance/Placemaking

A group of Indigenous youth from Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre were briefly prevented from entering city hall with a drum Friday, wanting to perform ahead of the Aboriginal Affairs Committee meeting. It took Coun. Mike Layton's intervention for security to let them through. That's symbolic of barriers Indigenous people face in the city, said Todd Ross, chair of the Toronto and York Region Métis Council. "Forty-five people in that council room are making decisions for us, with no Indigenous perspective," he said. "There should be an annual summit with city council and Indigenous people."

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