The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
WHILE issues unique to far northern First Nations unfold in places like Attawapiskat, a different set of challenges confronts aboriginal people who move south and the cities that become their homes.
Thunder Bay has always had native neighbours at Fort William. But the aboriginal population of the city itself grew 22.6 per cent between 2001 and 2006. It is estimated that one in five people living in Thunder Bay today is aboriginal, almost 40 per cent of them under the age of 20.
A recent report from Statistics Canada projects that in 2031, Thunder Bay will be one of five cities with the largest aboriginal populations in the country.
This growth will transform Thunder Bay in many ways. It is already straining services. A report to city council tonight updating the Urban Aboriginal Strategy recommends spending $125,000 to maintain the UAS advisory committee. Extraordinary funding of $25,000 to keep it going until city budget deliberations in March was approved just to meet existing needs while Ottawa considers the future of the strategy it created.
Many of the aboriginal people arriving in the city from small, remote communities in Northern Ontario come for education, health care, employment, social supports and a better quality of life, says the report.
Many have few resources or access to networks that will help them settle into the city.
Barriers such as poverty, the size of our city, difficulties with language, and discrimination prevent many people from accessing needed services and supports, it says.
Native services established years ago to deal with this very situation are overwhelmed. For example, the Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre has long out-grown its present space. Once the first point of contact for aboriginal people coming to Thunder Bay, it is no longer the “community centre” it once was, instead focusing on service delivery.
Biwaase’aa is an organization providing cultural, nutritional, educational and recreational support for children aged 7-13 in seven city elementary schools. Ottawa has advised its federal funding will end this year and the city is looking for ways to help keep it going.
The urban aboriginal advisory committee staff work in Shkoday Abinojiiwak Obimiwedoon, a busy day care on John Street Road that has no urban visibility.
The city manager, working with the mayor and the city’s aboriginal liaison, is investigating opportunities to help these and other aboriginal organizations find space in the city.
Council will be asked tonight to help develop a welcoming/transition centre at which municipal and aboriginal personnel will together make arriving from the Far North a good thing, not a daunting experience. It’s a great step and a sign of the new level of co-operation being fostered by leaders of both peoples in one city.