Toronto city council approve funding for 'long overdue' Indigenous Affairs Office
Members of local Indigenous communities say the city's efforts to achieve urban reconciliation will take more than a small office, though.
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There was a ray of hope at the city's Aboriginal Affairs Committee meeting on Thursday after council approved funding for the creation of an Indigenous Affairs Office.
But members of local Indigenous communities say Toronto's efforts to achieve urban reconciliation will take more than a small office. True collaboration is key, said Todd Ross, chair of the Toronto and York Region Métis Council.
"If the support from top leadership is lacking or it's not a priority, I think this office will have a very difficult time in succeeding," Ross said.
"The office needs to advance the creation of an atmosphere in the city of Toronto where Indigenous people feel included and have the resources that they need to support themselves."
After nearly a decade of failed attempts, city council finally voted Monday to include in this year's budget $520,000 for the Indigenous Affairs Office. Toronto joins Edmonton, Hamilton, Vancouver and Winnipeg in hosting such an office, which aim to effectively liaise between administration and Indigenous communities.
Newly hired Indigenous consultant Jeffrey Schiffer said at Thursday's meeting that the office "is really long overdue." Recruitment will begin soon for staff positions including a manager, two consultants and an intern.
As with other city departments, the office will operate under the auspices of the city manager. It will also oversee other initiatives geared toward increasing Indigenous presence and representation in the city.
Advocates have long said the lack of city employees who identify as Indigenous has limited their ability to access city services and they hope the creation of this office is a big step in the right direction.
Schiffer said the office is the latest in a series of initiatives the city has embarked on to achieve urban reconciliation.
Following last summer's resignation of an Indigenous consultant over, among other things, the lack of space for smudging, the city now has two rooms dedicated to the purification practice, Schiffer said. In addition, all committee rooms and some offices have been smoke-tested to ensure total safety for this important cultural practice, which is now performed at the beginning of every Aboriginal Affairs Committee meeting.
Schiffer said efforts are underway to create an Indigenous medicine garden at city hall for Indigenous people to grow plants needed for cultural ceremonies. The city has also committed to rolling out mandatory Indigenous cultural competency training for all public servants over the next three years.
"There's a real consultation fatigue within Indigenous communities. We need to move to concrete action," Schiffer said.
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