March 26, 2012

Our shared future

Thunder Bay discusses Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations

Lakehead University President Dr. Brian Stevenson addresses the crowd.

Jon Pukila
The Argus

Community and Aboriginal leaders, including 200 students, met Wednesday night in the Faculty Lounge to discuss current relationship between non-Aboriginals and Aboriginals in Thunder Bay.

Present at this forum were keynote speakers Chief Peter Collins of the Fort William First Nation and LU President Dr. Brian Stevenson.

Although many issues face relations between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals, the main goal is closing the gap between communities, according to Chief Collins.

“In order for us to work together we need to have a positive change between two neighbours, two communities,” he said.

Collins spoke of current city initiatives to close the gap, referencing the Oct. 4, 2011 declaration of commitment between Fort William First Nation and the City of Thunder Bay, and the hiring of an Aboriginal liaison.

“It’s time for us as neighbours, it’s time for us as treaty people … to close that gap and work together in a positive fashion.”

Next to speak was Mayor Keith Hobbs. Hobbs spoke about his personal experiences with racism in his life. He acknowledged making racial slurs in the past as a police officer.

“When you’re gonna speak about Aboriginal issues you have to come to the table and admit your faults,” Hobbs said.

He later apologized for his past actions.

Hobbs also spoke about efforts the city is taking with regards to Aboriginal relations, including visiting neighbouring First Nations. The goal is to make Thunder Bay an inclusive city.

LU President Dr. Stevenson outlined a four-point plan for Aboriginal education called the Gichikendaasiwin Plan. The plan calls for the creation of a centrally located building with offices, cultural support services, elders on site, and spaces for Aboriginal students. In addition, there will also be a funding plan to help current and future Aboriginal students cover the cost of post-secondary education. The new daycare facility was mentioned, as well as a plan for TelePresence networks in northern communities.

The final two speakers continued on the importance of education. Tammy Bobik of the Urban Aboriginal Strategy spoke about her work helping Aboriginal youth and children. “Education is going to be the way of the future for these students,” she said.

That theme was echoed by Wendy Landry of the Metis Nation of Ontario. “We’re not going away, and it’s important that all of us take a role in educating those that are narrow-minded or don’t wish to see the history of Aboriginal people.”

Photo by Emma Smith/ARGUS

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