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5. Reaching out to Aboriginal communities

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Many municipalities have First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations that border the municipality or visit the municipality for services such as health care, education and business. Other municipalities have large urban Aboriginal populations within the community. Aboriginal people have historically experienced significant racism and discrimination. To address their unique historical experience as part of anti-racism and anti-discrimination work requires recognition of their unique history and status in Canada.

Aboriginal communities are different from non-Aboriginal Canadians in significant ways. They have constitutional guarantees to a system of Aboriginal governance that exists alongside other Canadian political structures. In addition, Aboriginal culture is founded on a worldview that is unique. It governs many aspects of their lives and affects how they may relate with Canadian society and government.

It is essential to understand Aboriginal communities in your area and learn about their experiences. You may want to assess your community’s current interaction with Aboriginal communities and review the services that are provided. Many different organizations, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, have information to share. See Box 9 for some organizations that may prove useful.

Some may want to but are hesitant to work with Aboriginal people because they don’t want to appear to be wrong or politically incorrect. In some situations, it can be as easy as simply visiting and inviting their participation. Keep an open mind and do expect to learn about other ways of knowing. Aboriginal peoples have learned a great deal about the non-Aboriginal world view. The learning experience needs to go both ways with mutual respect and honesty. One can build bridges and open dialogue by sharing cultural events. Youth groups in both communities will have creative ways to engage in cross-cultural activities, and it is useful to include them whenever possible.

Elders play a significant role in Aboriginal community life. It is important that they be involved. Meeting elders in their communities rather than have them come to offices will show your interest in learning and sharing. For elders to feel involved, they must feel that their views are received with respect and are being taken seriously.

It is important to respect Aboriginal governance structures and cultural norms. For example, starting a dialogue with a letter from a Mayor to the Chief of a First Nations community or the President of a Métis council shows respect. In certain regions, there may be more than one First Nations Chief and each chief should be included.

It may be useful to start with a particular need and make a specific effort to address that need from the perspective of the Aboriginal community. Work with the community to meet that need. Starting with something small and tangible will help to establish the necessary relationships and understanding to productively work together to address racism and discrimination on a longer-term basis.

BOX 9: Where to get current information?

a. Aboriginal organizations

  • First Nations Statistical Institute
  • Assembly of First Nations
  • Congress of Aboriginal Peoples
  • Métis National Council, Métis Nation of Ontario
  • Chiefs of Ontario
  • Tungasuvvingat Inuit

b. Local level

  • Community services and agencies, area YMCAs, schools, legal clinics etc.

c. Federal and provincial level

  • Indian and Northern Affairs Canada
  • Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs
  • Statistics Canada
  • Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

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