Views / Opinion

Indigenous Office makes better cities for all: Kabatay

A dedicated office isn’t just a way to address the issues we face. It also demonstrates that a city is serious about its Indigenous community.

The Indigenous flags from five first nations fly at Toronto City Hall. Jasmine Kabtay applauds the city's moves toward establishing an Indigenous Affairs Office.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

The Indigenous flags from five first nations fly at Toronto City Hall. Jasmine Kabtay applauds the city's moves toward establishing an Indigenous Affairs Office.

Sometimes things move slowly. But it’s better than never moving at all.

Toronto is a step closer to getting an Indigenous Affairs Office, after the city’s Aboriginal Affairs Committee unanimously endorsed a staff recommendation that one be established. If the plan successfully passes executive committee and city council, Toronto will follow suit with other major Canadian cities.

This is a fantastic idea that so many people can, and will, benefit from. It’s a place where Indigenous Peoples will be welcomed and supported — something that is needed in a city as big as Toronto and others across the country.

According to the plans, the Indigenous Affairs Office would include four staffers and one consultant to address, among other things, poverty and homelessness, youth and children, and acceptance and place making within the city.

The last category comes at a crucial time, as the Indigenous population in cities is growing, according to Statistics Canada. Toronto alone had more than 46,000 off-reserve members, with Winnipeg accounting for the most, with over 92,000.

There are pressing needs. As my colleague Gilbert Ngabo reported, more than 30 per cent of homeless people identify as Indigenous in Toronto and there is only one Indigenous-led child-care provider in the city. In Winnipeg, more than 70 per cent of the city’s homeless self-identify as Indigenous, according to a 2015 survey.

It can be jarring seeking help as an Indigenous person in a city. You never know how one will evaluate your situation, especially with a long and complicated history of judgment and prejudice. An Environics Institute public opinion survey found 13 per cent of non-Indigenous people’s first impression of Indigenous peoples was negative.

A dedicated office isn’t just a way to address these issues. It also demonstrates that Toronto is serious about its Indigenous community.

Cities like Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Halifax have already established similar offices. And the results are promising.

Ginger Gosnell-Myers was hired as Vancouver’s Aboriginal relations manager in 2016, building on the City of Reconciliation mandate declared in 2014, before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report.

Gosnell-Myers’ work is paying off. While cities across the country were gearing up for Canada 150, Vancouver celebrated Canada 150+, highlighting Indigenous history from before Canada became Canada. The city also signed a statement of co-operation with the Squamish Nation for guidance and collaboration on events before Canada Day.

Having this representation at city hall is important. Finally Indigenous Peoples have a seat at the table. Finally people are learning about our culture and history, and working and collaborating to build a better city for all.

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