New agreement gives urban communities a voice

The plan will add Indigenous perspectives to policy decisions, says advocate.

Ontario’s friendship centres say a new relationship is being cultivated that will improve quality of life for urban Indigenous communities.A declaration of commitment was signed Wednesday by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) and the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC).

Jennifer Dockstader is 2nd vice-president of the OFIFC. She says the new agreement will give Indigenous people a voice in municipal services and will help solve problems within programs.

“It’s also a model for how actually to communicate with Indigenous people and fold us into the body politic in terms of decision making and in terms of inclusion,” Dockstader explained.

“The municipalities are responsible for health care, they’re responsible for public health, they’re responsible, not just for government services and governance, but also the social infrastructure that our community actually needs.”

She said the agreement can help bring about change by adding Indigenous perspectives to policy decisions.

AMO President Jamie McGarvey said in a statement Wednesday the association is thankful for the efforts in strengthening Ontario communities and that they are committed to further building the relationship.

“This Declaration strengthens our partnership with the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres. We encourage collaboration between municipalities and Friendship Centres, and support opportunities to build relationships and improve community supports and services. AMO is here to advance this work,” McGarvey said.

The partnership is a year in the making by a committee consisting of friendship centre leaders and AMO staff.

Dockstader says a large percentage of Indigenous people in Ontario live in more urban and rural areas.

“And it debunks the myth that we need to go home to our reserves,” Dockstader said. “Which is something that unfortunately we hear a lot of.”

The Declaration is between six municipalities in the province, including Fort Erie, Sioux Lookout, London, Cochrane, Sault Ste. Marie and Hamilton. It’s an open agreement, meaning other municipalities have the option to join in the future.

“Of course there’s 29 friendship centres across Ontario and that means that there’s 29 municipalities that have an opportunity to have these discussions and those discussions are going on.” Docksdater told APTN.

There are currently five more municipalities in the process for a local declaration including Ottawa.

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