Study highlights gaps in Aboriginal services in Timmins

Create: 12/01/2015 - 19:34

Timmins should be doing more to include and welcome the Aboriginal community, according to a study conducted by the Timmins Economic Development Corporation (TEDC).
Kathryn Carriere, Aboriginal liaison coordinator for TEDC, presented the 59-page report called the Timmins Aboriginal Services and Programs Gap Analysis study to the city council on Nov. 8.
Among the gaps outlined in the report are a disproportionate number of low-income persons, lack of suitable housing, inequality on several fronts, a disproportionate unemployment rate, racism, program funding gaps and a greater need for addictions counselling.
“We need to be a little more representative of our Aboriginal community because within Timmins, the Aboriginal population is growing very rapidly,” Carriere said. “It’s a very young community compared to the non-Aboriginal community and it’s a very transient population because there’s a lot of travel going on between the communities in the rural regions and Timmins.”
While the 2005 Census puts the Aboriginal population in Timmins at less than 4,000, Carriere said the number is inaccurate, even at that time. She said the Timmins Native Friendship Centre, which has the resources to provide an accurate estimate, puts the current population at about 14,000.
The idea for the study was brought up in a strategic planning session involving the City of Timmins, the Timmins Chamber of Commerce and the TEDC.
“We wanted to identify where the service gaps exist and what we can best do to address and fill these gaps and really promote the well-being of the urban Aboriginal community,” Carriere said.
The two-tiered study was done over the past six months with more than 150 people responding to surveys distributed around the city. The study was complemented with focus groups that were done with Aboriginal service providers.
“We talked with staff who worked with the Aboriginal community on a day-to-day basis and we identified key issues,” Carriere said.
Once the data was compiled, the list of recommendations was developed based on the respondents.
Carriere said she also referred to other municipalities for the study. In May, she attended the Canadian Municipal Aboriginal Gathering in Thunder Bay.
“It was great because (Thunder Bay) has a lot of urban Aboriginal strategies for inclusion,” Carriere said.
She said she had been in touch with Thunder Bay’s Aboriginal liaison and was provided with a comprehensive list of the city‘s programs and services.
The report included a list of short and long-term recommendations that the city could implement to address the lack of program development and services provisioned to Aboriginals within the city.
The four long-term recommendations include building affordable housing for city residents; developing an Aboriginal-specific housing project; opening a subsidized long-term care or nursing home for Aboriginal Elders with access to culturally relevant care; and opening an addictions treatment facility.
“Right now, if people need those services, typically they’re sent out of town,” Carriere said of the addictions facility. “This breaks up families, prevents people from going to work and can be costly.”
While acknowledging these recommendations could be costly, Carriere said the 12 short-term recommendations are relatively easy to implement.
These recommendations include adding Cree and Ojibway syllabics to the city’s official welcome signs; implementing collaborative circles to address issues of employment, training, housing and cultural awareness; hiring a municipal Aboriginal liaison officer; adding relevant content and information to the city’s website for the urban Aboriginals; developing formal Cree and Ojibway literacy programs for introduction into local schools; and designing and implementing a city-wide anti-racism coalition.
Even adding a cultural element to city council meetings is helpful, Carriere said.
“Have an Aborignal volunteer come in and open and close city meetings with a prayer, perhaps a smudge,” she said. “It’ll be relatively simple if not free, and I know there are a few people who have expressed interest in doing that.”
While Carriere said the study was well received by the city council, it’s not only for the city or TEDC to implement.
“We’re hoping that community partners will open this dialogue, engage some discussions on how to make these recommendations a reality within our community,” she said. “I think by addressing these recommendations Timmins will be able achieve that hub status.”
Timmins Mayor Tom Laughren was receptive to the recommendations and enlightened by the study.
“It showed me that we need to be working a lot more with First Nations leadership, not only with our own community, but outside the community as well,” he said.
Laughren said the city has made some progress in recent years in improving the relationship with the Aboriginal community.
That includes signing a memorandum of understanding with the Mushkegowuk Council and plans to sign one with the Wabun Tribal Council.
He also said the council has already worked on some of the short-term recommendations.
“The signage is something we have started at the airport for people who are coming into Timmins as well as on our police building,” he said. “It’s something we’ve done in a small way but we’re going to continue to look at ways to ensure that down the road that the Cree language is really incorporated.”
He also said they have added cultural elements to some events and plan to do so during the city’s upcoming 100th anniversary celebration.

See also

12/01/2015 - 19:37
12/01/2015 - 19:37
12/01/2015 - 19:37
12/01/2015 - 19:37