Urban Aboriginals and "Promising Practices"
Our call to action
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
ICE Aboriginal Forum
North York Council Chambers
North York Civic Centre
Thursday, September 19, 2002
Rick, thank you for the introduction
for the invitation to participate in the first Intergovernmental
Committee for Economic and Labour Force Development Aboriginal
Forum this morning. That's quite a mouthful to say so
I'll refer to ICE from now on
I also want to take a moment
to acknowledge this successful partnership story over the
last few years - a partnership where all three levels of government
work together to coordinate public sector efforts that support
economic and labour force development in Toronto. ICE is a
most impressive initiative - one that could or should be modeled
in major cities across the country!
I'm here because RBC Financial Group has
a significant role to play in helping to build a strong and
healthy society with a prosperous future - in helping to make
a difference in Toronto and in cities across the country.
I'm also here because my own experience with aboriginal peoples
has been along a path of learning and understanding. While
leading RBC Royal Bank in Winnipeg thirteen years ago, I became
aware of the issues facing aboriginal peoples, especially
the urban population, and the need as a Canadian and as part
of the corporate community - to act. And finally, I'm here
to help stimulate thinking and a call to action about a new
reality in Toronto - a new reality that embraces urban aboriginals,
issues and trends.
From Jane Pitfield, Deborah Richardson,
Roger Obonsawin, Senator Olive Tiedema and Tom Morrison, to
Peter Frampton, Eunice Grayson, Peter Jones, Anne Fuentes,
Susan Purcell, Kenn Ross, Rod Seiling and Eddie Thornton,
it's gratifying to see aboriginal leaders, federal, provincial
and municipal partners (including Human Resources Development
Canada, Industry Canada, Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges
and Universities, Ontario Ministry of Economic Development/Trade,
City of Toronto's Economic Development and Social Services
Divisions), as well as union/community representatives and
members of the private sector here today. You're already leading
the call to action!
And with recent headlines like, "Cities are pivotal to
innovation", "Our cities are running on empty"
and "CEOs agree cities need cash", this year may
signal the start of renewed urban policies and practices in
Toronto. Cities - and the convergence of human capital - are
an important front-burner policy, media and general public
issue right now. Whether it's The Toronto Summit in June,
the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in
August, the Canada West Foundation's (CWF) recent Report,
"Uncommon Sense: Promising Practices in Urban
Aboriginal Policy-Making and Programming", or the upcoming
Prime Minister's Caucus Task Force Report on Urban Issues,
not to mention the federal government's Throne speech on September
30th, cities are one of the current hot buttons and urban
aboriginals are not only part of the equation - they're part
of the solution. It may well be that timing is finally on
As Calvin Hanselmann of the CWF says, "the heightened
interest in and attention to urban aboriginal issues has not
often been matched by policy-making and programming success.
The focus has often been on failures and the frustrations
of both governments and urban aboriginal peoples
it's timely to ask, what are the good ideas that work - the
So where does our call to action journey
begin? With a couple of letters - with voices that need to
We start with Jane Pitfield, City Councillor
and Chair of the City's Aboriginal Affairs Committee
I found out Jane was opening our session today, I wanted all
of you to know that she put her committee's thoughts on paper
months ago. Here's an excerpt of a letter to Jim Flaherty,
former Ontario Finance Minister, dated January 24, 2002: "Over
fifty percent of the aboriginal population of Canada does
not live on reserve but in urban centres. At present there
is no strategy in place to respond to the unique needs of
these people. I challenge you to take steps to learn more
about aboriginal people and to use whatever authority you
have to improve their lives and conditions in Toronto and
the rest of the province." Talk about a call to action.
Five days later in a letter to Tony Clement,
Ontario's Minister of Health, Roger Obonsawin, of the Aboriginal
Council of Toronto wrote, in part: "The aboriginal population
in the Greater Toronto Area is over 70,000 members strong.
As a leader in this vibrant and diverse community, I've heard
many concerns about the direction the province is taking on
our specific issues. A response to these concerns would indicate
to us that you are prepared to treat the aboriginal people
of this province as real people in real communities."
Talk about another call to action.
We know that over the past thirty years
the aboriginal population in Canada has become progressively
more urban. "We also know that aboriginal people who
find steady employment and social acceptance in the city blend
into the increasingly multicultural urban scene, while those
who encounter difficulties are highly visible and reinforce
the stereotype of urban aboriginal people as poor, marginal,
As Brian Maracle, a member of the Mohawk
Nation, award winning journalist and author of Crazywater
says, "The perceptions of native people that most Canadians
have are defined and limited largely by the second-hand images
they see in the media and by the first-hand encounters they
have on the street. Given these limited and superficial sources
of information, it's not surprising that the stereotype of
"the drunken Indian" looms so large in warped perceptions.
Although this stereotype is not fully shared by all Canadians,
it is nevertheless deeply rooted in the Canadian psyche."
So what can we collectively do to change
perceptions? And at the same time, what can we collectively
do to help urban aboriginals maintain their identity, culture
and language, support those living in cities looking to provincial
and municipal governments for public services (like everyone
else), push the envelope on building social capital and better
listen to aboriginal communities, recognizing the importance
of urban aboriginal issues and steady progress? Let's talk
about ideas and action plans throughout the day and in the
Although poverty, homelessness, alcohol
addiction, poor health and low self-esteem problems among
urban aboriginals may very well find their roots in the abuses
of the residential school experience or in discrimination/intolerance
as part of every day living; and although Toronto (the public/private/not-for-profit
sectors, communities and citizens) needs to find answers and
solutions - chart a course for the future
can we also
decide to simultaneously focus on what's working well in cities
across the country - what's working well in Toronto and build
on these successes - build on "promising practices"?
What does this city or any Canadian city for that matter have
to lose by placing more emphasis on showcasing aboriginal
champions - promising entrepreneurs, professional women, young
people - the role models and leaders of tomorrow! Where's
As Tehaliwaskenhas, Bob Kennedy, publisher and editor of the
Turtle Island Native Network says, "There's no shortage
of information available about the aboriginal 'experience'
in Canada. All anyone has to do is take a look at the Royal
Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), the report of the
Manitoba Justice Inquiry, or British Columbia's Liberating
Our Children, Liberating Our Nations. RCAP said a lot about
'Aboriginal People Outside of Reserves', including the necessity
for the establishment of institutions of urban aboriginal
It's clear that urban aboriginals need an
active voice in the decisions that affect their day-to-day
lives and futures. And this is what the City of Vancouver
is doing - raising the voice of urban aboriginals. Young people
have spoken and the City has assumed a bigger role in addressing
social issues - street youth, homelessness, and emergency
shelters. City social planners are discovering that many aboriginal
youth have never lived on a reserve. "Vancouver is working
to improve the linkages between the municipality and the urban
aboriginal community. City staff now attends the Vancouver
Aboriginal Council as a way of exchanging information on key
community issues such as homelessness and healthcare funding.
The City of Vancouver's Social Planning Department and Parks
and School Boards also work together on youth service issues."
In Winnipeg, an urban sweat lodge is currently
being built - the first of its kind in North America. It will
offer traditional aboriginal teachings and sweat ceremonies
to the city's homeless. Hopefully this permanent structure
will pave the way for "urban aboriginal healing and revitalization"
in Winnipeg and other cities as well - it's also an opportunity
- a "sacred place for urban aboriginals to get re-acquainted
with their native roots."
And in Calgary, the Southern Alberta Institute
of Technology (SAIT) is celebrating the first anniversary
of its Chinook Lodge Aboriginal Resource Centre this Monday.
The Chinook Lodge is dedicated to serving the learning and
training needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis students
at SAIT. Individuals can make use of its resources, study,
or connect with fellow students. I look forward to seeing
the Centre next week and meeting bright young urban aboriginal
In various cities, the three levels of government
are working together to find more effective ways to welcome
aboriginal peoples into programs/services and obtain sufficient
financial resources to support projects. As indicated in a
discussion paper about local governments and urban aboriginal
issues (Greater Vancouver Regional District), "There's
an ongoing need for better coordination and information sharing
between federal/provincial governments and cities on aboriginal
program/service delivery. As aboriginal communities become
self-governing, the need for joint action and planning will
continue to be of critical importance, particularly if the
trend of increasing urban aboriginal populations continues."
Leadership, policy, communication, funding, relationship/partnership
building and distribution of services/programs are all key
drivers in western Canada and for the city of Toronto.
We must get beyond the stereotypes and the
the city of Toronto can step up to the plate with
its own agenda/work plans, as well as learn from urban aboriginal
promising practices across the country. Many of us
found this out first hand when Fiona Blondin of O.I. Employee
Leasing Inc. and I co-hosted a celebration of Toronto's urban
aboriginal community at the Royal Bank Plaza on March 7th,
with the newly appointed Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, James
Bartleman, as one of our special guests.
At this event, the power of networking and
partnerships set the tone for what government/private sector
and community relations is all about - and for strengthening
urban aboriginal voices. Speaking of partnerships
you know, the Government of Canada and the Aboriginal Labour
Force Development Circle (ALFDC) teamed up to address homelessness
among urban aboriginal people in Toronto. This is a good example
of partnerships at work and follow-up on the Mayor's Homelessness
Action Task Force recommendations (a task force chaired by
At RBC Financial Group, we sometimes need
to step back and remind ourselves that long-term business
relationships with aboriginal peoples and communities - our
banking, lending and other financial services - are part of
a holistic set of relationships where education, training,
employment, partnerships and community leadership work together
to form a basis for mutual benefit and ongoing results.
RBC wants to support early learning and
childcare initiatives, not to mention help urban aboriginal
youth as they prepare to be future leaders in their communities;
we're also committed to assisting aboriginal communities in
their efforts to achieve economic self-sufficiency and to
promoting aboriginal economic development and employment opportunities:
- We introduced our Native Student Awards Program
in 1992 - a program that provides five Aboriginal students
with up to $4000 for each year of their post-secondary education.
- Our bank's Aboriginal Stay in School Program
offers aboriginal high school students a chance to earn
and learn during the summer. We believe that the more young
people know about the business world, the more motivated
they will be to obtain the education required to succeed.
The Toronto area is well represented in this program every
- Since more than half of aboriginal Canadians live in
urban centres, we've placed a focused effort in this area.
Our bank's partnership with the National Association
of Friendship Centres has led to the support of more
than 120 centres across Canada, including the one right
here in Toronto. David Martin will speak to you more about
the Ontario chapter.
- We also support training initiatives for aboriginal communities
and entrepreneurs. And RBC Royal Bank is a founding sponsor
of Canadian Executive Services Organization (CESO) Aboriginal
Services, including its MBA program, offering economic development
assistance in aboriginal communities.
Have we achieved our goals? Not yet. Do we have a distance
to go? Absolutely. Are we on the right path? We believe we
are. That's why we want to continue working with all of you
- and we also want to work together on promising practices
for urban aboriginals in Toronto.
At RBC Financial Group, we see urban aboriginal issues as
a matter of concern for all Canadians
economic development as having a significant impact on the
national economy and the corporate sector. We've learned it's
possible for corporate Canada to create wealth with aboriginal
peoples and for aboriginal peoples. It's in the national interest
to do more. It's in the business interest to do more. It's
in all of our interest to help ensure aboriginal Canadians
take their rightful place in Canadian society and in the economy.
There's a cost to doing nothing and a cost to not doing enough.
It's our call to action!