Views / Opinion

After Indigenous consultant resigns from Toronto City Hall, excuses are wearing thin: Kabatay

To non-Indigenous Canadians, it looks like governments are making changes when the reality is it does nothing to change day-to-day issues that we face, writes Jasmine Kabatay

Toronto needs to show its commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous communities, not just tell us about it, writes Jasmine Kabatay.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Toronto needs to show its commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous communities, not just tell us about it, writes Jasmine Kabatay.

When it comes to governments being inclusive of Indigenous Peoples the most common theme is all talk and no action.

Back in March, the City of Toronto hired Lindsay Kretschmer to be its new Indigenous-affairs consultant, tasked with improving relations with Indigenous communities, hiring more Indigenous people, and advising on policies related to Truth and Reconciliation efforts.

But it didn’t last long. As my Metro colleague Gilbert Ngabo first reported, Kretschmer resigned in early July and filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, claiming the city denied her access to an appropriate place to smudge.

What raised flags for me was Kretschmer’s belief her hiring was just for show and a sign of tokenism.

"It was a token position to make themselves look good, but they are doing nothing on the Indigenous file," she said in an interview with Metro.

Token gestures aren’t new, and quite frankly they are a slap in the face for Indigenous Peoples.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been accused of token gestures, such as when he unveiled the re-naming of Ottawa’s Langevin Block to Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council  — a move that was met with criticism for not consulting any one from the Algonquin nation that lays claim to the land — or the change from National Aboriginal Day to Indigenous People’s Day.

To non-Indigenous Canadians, it looks like governments are making changes when the reality is it does nothing to change day-to-day issues that we face.

The excuses are wearing thin.

The Ontario Human Rights code specifically mandates organizations must accommodate Indigenous ceremonies and customs. And the city’s own human resources policy and guidelines in its provisions for accommodating spiritual practices makes special note of not requiring the practice to be explicitly labelled a religion or creed as “particularly significant with respect to Indigenous peoples for whom such terms/concepts may have negative connotations due to the history of colonialism in Canada.”

Which is essentially saying they understand the history of colonialism on Indigenous Peoples. Yet the powers that be continue to fail them when it comes to getting rid of the colonial mindset.

They have the guides that tell them how to be inclusive, so what is the problem with following through?

While Toronto City Hall may be falling short on accommodating Indigenous Peoples' right to smudge, many institutions across the country have already made the change and added smudge rooms.

Post-secondary schools have smudge rooms available for students and many are going a step further to create Indigenized spaces, like the University of Manitoba’s Migizii Agamik – Bald Eagle Lodge, a smudge-friendly building that incorporates traditional teachings from the area in its architecture. Or the wigwam raised on Halifax’s Mount Saint Vincent campus this summer.

Ontario’s Indigenous Affairs office created two rooms for Indigenous ceremonies, even including a ventilation system for smudging smoke. In February, Chinook hospital in Lethbridge, Alta., added a ceremony room for Indigenous patients.

The city hired Kretschmer with the intention of reconciling and being more inclusive of Indigenous Peoples. But if they can’t be inclusive in their own walls, they should re-evaluate their commitment to Indigenous Peoples — starting with setting up a proper smudge room and inviting Kretschmer back for a ceremony.

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