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Dear Sioux Lookout...

Thursday May 10, 2012

By Garnet Angeconeb, Anishinaabe citizen of Sioux Lookout

For centuries, long before the town of Sioux Lookout was founded by the newcomers in 1912, this area was the homeland to the Anishinaabe people. Sadly some of the descendants are now visibly dislocated from their traditional territory – strangers in their own land.

Often the visible social issues evident to the public eye have unfortunately soured some relations between the Anishinaabek and non-Aboriginal people. Much has changed for the better, but there still lives within the veneer, remnants of racism that rear their ugly heads from time to time.

The results of systemic racism have created an “us and them” division within the community. These attitudes continue to subsist in subtle ways.

In the 1980s, Sioux Lookout was the exciting scene of Anishinaabe organizations settling in, and thus contributing significantly to the economic well-being and survivability of the town.
This was a welcomed movement especially by the business community including the education institutions, health, and other entities. Otherwise, Sioux Lookout was facing a “gloom and doom” bust cycle to its economy with the major downsizing of the local CN operations and the closure of the National Defence Radar Base.

With the increase of the Anishinaabe population, it was befitting to sustain and maintain amiable relations. Thus in 1988, the municipal council initiated a group that eventually became known as the Sioux Lookout Anti-Racism Committee. The purpose of the group at the time was clear and straightforward; relationship building between the Anishinaabek and the non-Aboriginal people.

Over the years, however, issues and circumstances have changed. The time has now come to reassess and rethink on how best to reinforce the building of relations; it’s an ongoing effort. Perhaps a new strategy is formulating on the horizon – a new approach for all of us to think about.

Rethink the Purpose of the Sioux Lookout Anti-Racism Committee

Over the years, the Sioux Lookout Anti-Racism Committee has digressed from its original purpose. There are a number of reasons for this change that may explain the organization’s digression such as, but not only attributable to: inconsistent funding sources; change in Sioux Lookout’s demographics; loss of focus; lack of direction; lack of support from the Anishinaabe people; and, complacency.

Although there have been some worthy projects and programs initiated by the Sioux Lookout Anti-Racism Committee, the reality is that the organization has strayed away from its original intent – to build relations between the Anishinaabek and non-Aboriginal community. By directing its energy and limited resources to other issues, it appears that the Sioux Lookout Anti-Racism has lost focus on the original purpose of the organization.

It is safe to say that the work to realize the original vision of the Sioux Lookout Anti-Racism Committee is far from over; racism is still alive.

It is apparent for whatever reasons, the Anishinaabe community has not fully participated nor has it adequately been engaged in the work of the Sioux Lookout Anti-Racism Committee. The work to address issues of racism and attempts to build relations are still ongoing efforts.
These efforts will be ongoing for a long time yet. Whether it is through the Sioux Lookout
Anti-Racism Committee or something new, the effort to improve race relations must be undeniably supported by all citizens.

If the Sioux Lookout Anti-Racism Committee is to win its trust back from the Anishinaabe community, then it must make every effort to garner meaningful participation and engagement from that community. If it does not, perhaps the time has arrived for the larger community to explore new ways and processes to address social issues, in a way that makes the Anishinaabe participation and engagement more meaningful.


1. the Sioux Lookout Municipal Council and area First Nations jointly commit to develop a process that ensures and allows meaningful dialogue to take place, and that this process is not limited to political, economic, and social relations. This process is to be premised on good faith to build strong ties between the Anishinaabe community (at large) and the Municipality of Sioux Lookout. Further this new process must be fully endorsed and resourced by all parties, including the federal, provincial, municipal and First Nations governments.

2. the Sioux Lookout Anti-Racism Committee be reorganized and reconstituted to officially become what it has become – a vehicle that promotes multiculturalism; youth activities; and other social justice issues. Such revision of purpose, mandate and goals would finally allow the Sioux Lookout Anti-Racism Committee to change its controversial name to something less adversarial ; and finally,

3. the Municipal and First Nations leadership lobby the Ontario government to establish a branch office of the Ontario Human Rights Commission to be located in Sioux Lookout.

Thank you!
Garnet Angeconeb

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