This Note is part of a series of Notes on key City issues to update City Council at the start of its 2018 – 2022 term.
Toronto has the largest Indigenous population in Ontario and the 4th largest in Canada. Indigenous peoples hold a unique legal and constitutional position in Canada. The City of Toronto has affirmed this unique position in its Vision Statement on Access, Equity and Diversity and by adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The City has further committed to taking action to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the spirit of reconciliation as requested by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Reconciliation is about equality and healing through trust, respect and collaboration. For true healing to begin, Indigenous input is needed when making decisions about Indigenous communities’ well-being. A shift is required towards including First Nations, Métis and Inuit people, culture and traditions in education, employment, health, housing and other facets of life in Toronto.
In 2019, City Council will consider related reports that could include updates on the:
- Indigenous Health Strategy
- Indigenous cultural competency training
- The Indian Residential School Survivor Legacy Project on Nathan Phillips Square
- Establishment of the Indigenous Affairs Office
Furthermore, the City’s new Indigenous Affairs Office is developing its first strategic plan. To ensure stakeholders and Indigenous partners are engaged in a meaningful way, a consultant with expertise in Indigenous relations has been retained to support the development of the plan.
Colonization, racism, social exclusion and lack of self-determination continue to significantly affect the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples in Toronto and beyond, which impacts access to education, housing, and employment. As a result of colonization and trauma, there is an undeniable inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.
The Indigenous Population in the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area
According to Canada’s 2016 Census Metropolitan Area statistics, the Indigenous population in the Toronto region increased from 37,000 in 2011 to 46,320, or by 25 percent.
However, other research has shown that the national census undercounts Indigenous peoples. The census often relies on a fixed address, and many Indigenous peoples move frequently or are homeless. There is also a reluctance amongst Indigenous peoples to fill out censuses.
In the Our Health Counts Study (2016), the largest urban Indigenous population health study in Canada, where Indigenous organizations owned and controlled the data, the total Indigenous population in Toronto was 69,000. Our Health Counts also reported that over 90 percent of Toronto’s Indigenous population lives below the (before tax) low-income cut-off.
City of Toronto’s Commitment to Indigenous Peoples
In 2010, the City adopted the Statement of Commitment to the Aboriginal Communities of Toronto. In 2015, City Council, in consultation with the Aboriginal Affairs Committee, identified eight Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Report as priorities for implementation. These eight Calls related to health, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, training, museums and archives, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, commemoration, sports and newcomers.
The City receives Indigenous focused advice and recommendations through the Aboriginal Advisory Committee (AAC), an advisory body to City Council. Members are made up of executive directors and designates from the organizations and institutions in Toronto serving Toronto’s Indigenous communities.
The Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Council identified gaps in the City’s current structure, and concerns about the City’s commitment to Indigenous priorities were raised, including:
- The absence of a locus of control on Indigenous issues within the City.
- Low level of trust between the Indigenous community and the City of Toronto.
- Lack of an authentic relationship between the City and the Indigenous community.
- A perception that Indigenous priorities have a low level of urgency within the City of Toronto.
- Insufficient progress made on Indigenous priorities.
Actions or Plans
While the City remains committed to embedding the responsibility for Indigenous priorities across the public service, the City recognized the need for more focused and coordinated leadership on Indigenous relations.
In 2017, City Council endorsed the establishment of an Indigenous Affairs Office. The creation of this office was requested by the Aboriginal Affairs Committee and the Indigenous community in Toronto. With Toronto’s increasing Indigenous population there is a growing need to support First Nations, Métis and Inuit in the city and to work with the Indigenous organizations in Toronto, the City’s Treaty partners and local First Nations.
The creation of the Indigenous Affairs Office follows a best practice set by other large municipalities. Three municipalities in Canada have Indigenous offices – Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver, who respectively have the first, second and third largest Indigenous populations in Canada.
The Indigenous Affairs Office will support divisional work with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, strengthen the City’s relationship with Indigenous communities and advance reconciliation in the City of Toronto.
The Indigenous Affairs Office is building on the City’s success to date. Divisions have made progress on Indigenous initiatives including:
- Development of a comprehensive Indigenous health strategy.
- Continued work on Indigenous place-making by Parks, Forestry and Recreation.
- Supporting the Restoration of Identity: Indian Residential School Survivor Legacy Project on Nathan Phillips Square.
- Supporting the roll-out of Indigenous cultural competency training across the Toronto Public Service.
|July 2018||City Council approved additional resources in the continued work on the Indian Residential School Survivors Legacy Project.|
|May 2018||City Council requested agencies and corporations to incorporate traditional land acknowledgements in their board meetings and required board members and staff to attend Indigenous cultural competency training.|
|December 2017||City Council endorsed establishment of an Indigenous Affairs Office within the City Manager’s Office at the City of Toronto.|
|June 2017||The City unveiled the permanent installation of five Indigenous flags on Nathan Phillips Square. These include the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, Haudenosaunee (Six Nations), Huron-Wendat, Métis and Inuit.|
|May 2016||City Council adopted the City Manager’s report on Fulfilling Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This report outlines how the City should respond to eight of the TRC’s Calls to Action that have bearing on the municipality.|
|May 2016||The Toronto Board of Health endorsed Toronto’s first Indigenous Health Strategy that guides the work of Toronto Public Health and the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network in improving health outcomes in Toronto.|
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