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“They’ve got to roll the dice — be risky, go large on this, because reconciliation is a pretty loud knock on the door and I think boldness would be applauded,” says Kenn Richard, executive director of Native Child and Family Services of Toronto and a member of the city’s Aboriginal Affairs committee. Efforts to “Indigenize” city hall have taken a major hit, yet there’s a simple way for Toronto to start reconciling the treatment of Indigenous people and see that they have a real role in decision-making, advocates say.

“My recommendation today has been consistently presented to the city since (1998) amalgamation — establish an Aboriginal Office at city hall, set up the relationship (with Indigenous people) and the actual things you do will flow from that,”

says Kenn Richard, executive director of Native Child and Family Services of Toronto and a member of the city’s Aboriginal Affairs committee.

“The relationship needs to be honoured in a significant way. The city has been paralyzed on this point for whatever reason. I don’t think anyone’s evil or there’s a nasty agenda at play — it seems like the city cannot bring itself to move to that extra step that honours the diversity task force that they’re so proud of.”

Toronto seemed to be making strides. Most official city hall gatherings now start with acknowledgement they are on traditional Indigenous lands. Flags in Nathan Phillips Square permanently honour The Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation; Six Nations of the Grand River Territory First Nation; the Huron-Wendat-Wendake First Nation; The Métis Nation of Ontario; and the Inuit.

The flags were raised in June at a special sunrise ceremony, applauded by a crowd including Mayor John Tory and four interns working in city councillors’ offices, with federal funding via Miziwe Biik Aboriginal employment centre, as part of the city’s Aboriginal Employment Strategy.

The same month, Tory’s executive committee voted to launch consultations on a “work plan and organizational structure” for a permanent Aboriginal Office that would elevate Indigenous outreach and reconciliation by moving them out of the multi-file Equity, Diversity and Human Rights office.

The appearance of progress, however, crashed when the city staffer tasked with overseeing it quit and launched a human rights complaint against the city.

Lindsay Kretschmer, a Mohawk Wolf Clan member hired as Indigenous Affairs consultant in March, accused the city of “disrespectful” treatment of the Indigenous file and of violating her right to practise smudging, a ceremony that involves burning medicinal plants.

“In 2017 you’re forbidding me from practising my culture. That’s essentially a repeat of colonization behaviour,” Kretschmer said, Metro reported last month . “It’s just really bad to work there as an Indigenous person.” Kretschmer declined an interview request from the Star.

Councillor Mike Layton, who co-chairs the Aboriginal Affairs committee, acknowledges the setback.

“It’s a shame that the city wasn’t in a position to ensure that we could keep Lindsay,” he says. “She had a lot to contribute to the city and took on a file that was very difficult and under-resourced.

“This was a step backwards in both the work being done and in our relations with the Indigenous-Aboriginal people living in the City of Toronto. I hope we can resolve this quickly — it’s going to take commitment from the bureaucratic side, to take seriously recommendations from the committee and to act on them as quickly as possible. But the politicians are on the hook — we need to fund and resource this work.”

He supports the call for a stand-alone Aboriginal Office, noting the city committed to honouring calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation report, and now needs staff with enough […]

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