News / Vancouver

New group gives political voice to Vancouver’s urban aboriginals

A new advocacy organization intends to give Vancouver’s aboriginal residents some political oomph.

The constitution and other documents giving life to the Northwest Indigenous Council were mailed to B.C. Registry Services on Tuesday.

According to its constitution, the organization will be a political voice for B.C.’s off reserve aboriginals with municipal, provincial and federal governments.

It will also advocate for a host of issues including homelessness, addictions, violence against women and a disproportionate number of children in foster care.

“This is completely unacceptable,” said Ernie Crey, who is the society’s president. “There is a need for a strong, clear voice that can advocate politically and influence government policies because that’s not being done right now.”

Vancouver is home to 40,000 aboriginal people, according to the 2011 Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study. The city has the country’s third largest aboriginal population behind Winnipeg and Calgary. Half the population is under age 24 and is growing at four times the national rate.

The 2011 National Household Survey notes that more than 196,000 aboriginal people live in B.C. Of them, more than half live off reserve and in cities.

The new organization will be self sustaining and won’t initially apply for government core funding, Crey said.

“We strongly believe in independence and self reliance,” Crey said. “Government funding attracts Latte La-De-Da Nation types and not serious advocates.”

The City of Vancouver’s Urban Aboriginal People’s Advisory Committee advises the city on urban aboriginal civic engagement, but this falls short of the mark, Crey said. “These agencies advocate for better funding and services but they have no political voice in the mainstream,” he said.

Aboriginal people living in Oppenheimer Park could have benefitted from such advocacy last year, Crey said. A tent city was erected in Oppenheimer last June to protest of the city’s failure to end homelessness or provide adequate housing for low-income residents. More than half of the campers were aboriginal, Crey said.

The United Native Nations Society, which Crey was president of in 1992, used to perform such advocacy. But the organization is now defunct, dissolving in 2013 after failing to file documentation.

Vancouver is home to the offices of the First Nations Summit, Union of BC Indian Chiefs and Assembly of First Nations BC regional chief. But those organizations are struggling with on-reserve issues.

"What is really missing and is sorely needed is political advocacy for off reserve people, Crey said.

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