Summary of what we heard in Urban Aboriginal Strategy Engagement 2016
Budget 2016 committed Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) to identify ways to strengthen the Urban Aboriginal Strategy to more effectively meet the needs of urban Indigenous peoples.
To meet this commitment, INAC undertook, between June and September 2016, a comprehensive engagement process, including 21 face-to-face regional roundtables across Canada, an online survey, funding to national Indigenous organizations to speak with their members, and town hall meetings with parliamentarians. Key issues that were raised included the need for local programs and services that focused on:
- transitional culture and language
- supporting families
- housing and homelessness
- mental health and addictions
- health care
Although the key themes and priorities are organized into categories, it is clear that most, if not all of the challenges facing urban Indigenous peoples are interconnected and cannot be addressed by a single program or service. There was significant support for a more holistic approach to programs and services that is culturally sensitive and on the needs of individuals and communities.
Also identified were improvements for the design and delivery of the Urban Aboriginal Strategy. Roundtable participants stressed the importance of:
- core and multi-year funding
- equal access to program funding and services
- a northern urban component
- research projects
- the involvement of Indigenous leadership in programs and services.
The roundtables allowed participants to also share success stories that could be used as models for program delivery as well as services and programs.
The Indigenous population is diverse and young, with nearly half (44.6%) of the population under the age of twenty-five years. It is expected that the Indigenous population will remain the fastest growing segment of the Canadian population.
The reasons why Indigenous people move to urban centres are many and range from education and job opportunities to the lifestyle found in the city. The transition to urban life can, however, be difficult and many of those seeking urban life are often unable to access the supports needed for a successful transition from often remote and isolated reserves.
Federal Budget 2016 renewed funding for the Urban Aboriginal Strategy for one year and committed Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) to identify ways to strengthen the Urban Aboriginal Strategy. As part of its commitment, INAC undertook a comprehensive engagement process from June to September 2016 that included 21 roundtables across Canada, an online survey, funding to national Indigenous organizations to speak with their members and town hall meetings with parliamentarians. The information gathered through this engagement process has informed the development of policy options for the renewal of urban programming for Indigenous peoples.
About this report
This report reflects the diversity of viewpoints heard during the twenty-one roundtables and does not represent INAC's opinion, analysis, or interpretation of the input received from stakeholders.
Summarized in this report are the comments and opinions received from stakeholders regarding the improvements that could be made in the Urban Aboriginal Strategy. Key issues are identified, such as:
- barriers faced by urban Indigenous peoples
- program gaps
- recommendations to improve programs and services for urban Indigenous peoples
During summer 2016, INAC held 21 face-to-face roundtables across Canada with representatives from urban First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities, municipal/ provincial/territorial governments, and front-line service delivery organizations. Parliamentarians were also invited to participate in the roundtables. These roundtables were designed to obtain feedback on the current Urban Aboriginal Strategy, and how programming for urban Indigenous peoples could be improved. In order to facilitate open dialogue and discussion, a maximum of 30 key stakeholders per city were invited to participate.
At each roundtable participants were provided with a short background and history of the Urban Aboriginal Strategy, the reasons for the roundtables, and if available, the key points of discussion from other roundtables. Roundtable participants were also invited to provide written submissions.
The following questions were used to guide the discussions:
- What are the main issues that Indigenous peoples face when living in or moving to an urban centre?
- Which needs of urban Indigenous peoples are currently being met by government or non-government services?
- Can you provide an example of a successful program or service delivered in an urban centre that has helped you?
- Why has it been successful?
- What need(s) did it address?
- What are the main barriers that need to be addressed to meet the needs of urban Indigenous peoples?
- What are the gaps in current program support for Indigenous peoples living in urban centres?
- What should be the primary area(s) of focus for new or expanded programs and services for the urban Indigenous population? Why?
Although these questions were used to guide discussions, the conversations were fluid and wide-ranging, often moving away from the confines of these six questions. As a result, instead of providing responses to the individual questions, participants focused their comments on four broad categories:
- overarching themes
- local programs and services
- program design and delivery
- success stories
Summary of what we heard
Funding for the Urban Aboriginal Strategy was directed at programs and services that would support the increased participation of the urban Indigenous population in the economy. Participants at the roundtables advocated for a broader mandate to address, among other things, the need for cultural/language programs, housing support, and mental health/addiction services. In the view of participants, these broader and more basic programs and services are required to help individuals attain the emotional well-being and the life-skills needed to find work and continue on their learning path. It was felt by participants that in the end, a focus on these more basic elements would eventually lead to greater participation in the economy.
Participants noted the importance of framing urban Indigenous programming within the context of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action and the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It was recommended that INAC respond to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by funding programs to help address the social determinants of health for Indigenous peoples living off reserve and that ensure that equitable services are provided for all off-reserve Indigenous populations.
The urban Indigenous population
It was widely recognized that over 60% of the Indigenous population now lives in urban centres. This population is diverse and transient. In large cities like Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, there are Indigenous peoples who come from all across Canada as well as internationally. One of the challenges in the larger urban centres is the lack of a defined Indigenous community and the absence of a common language or traditions to help bring people together. In some instances, there are families who have been living in the city for two or three generations, including a growing Indigenous middle class, many of whom may have little connection to their communities of origin.
Participants noted that the "on-off" reserve categorization of First Nations does not reflect the transient nature of the population. People move back and forth between their home communities on reserve and the city for a variety of reasons but the majority continue to identify with their community of origin.
Definition of "urban"
It was suggested that it may be more appropriate to use the term "hub", particularly in a northern context. Under the current definition of the Urban Aboriginal Strategy, where an "urban centre" is based on population size, a "hub" refers to a place where people go to access services such as health care and education. A number of cities provide a variety of services to surrounding communities and those in more remote regions of the provinces, such as:
- Prince George, British Columbia
- Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
- Thompson, Manitoba
- Val-d’Or, Québec
- Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador
The same is true in the territories for Iqaluit, Yellowknife, and Whitehorse.
Racism and discrimination
As racism and discrimination remain prevalent in numerous cities and towns across Canada, reducing racism should be a priority. There was strong support to raise awareness about the history and contributions that Indigenous peoples have made to Canadian society. This is particularly important for new Canadians.
It was suggested that non-Indigenous peoples need to reach out to the Indigenous community. Non-Indigenous service organizations could play an important role in raising awareness and educating others in their communities about the complex issues facing Indigenous peoples in the city and advocate to employers about the benefits of hiring Indigenous peoples.
Local programs and services
Participants were in favour of ongoing, consistent and flexible funding to service delivery organizations to enable them to provide effective programs and services for the ever-increasing number of urban organizations, and the growing Indigenous population within their cities.
Participants noted that Indigenous peoples were moving to urban centres for various reasons including:
- attending school
- escaping domestic violence
- accessing health services
- release from incarceration
These different groups require different support services and a welcoming and safe place to gather. Participants called for the creation of urban transition and support centres that would be known by Indigenous peoples. It was suggested that cities establish a central point of entry for First Nations, Inuit and Métis, much like the ones in place for new Canadian immigrants. Examples of support services that could be available in this type of centre are:
- referral services
- social gathering space
- cultural centre
- skills training
- recreation programs
- information on programs available in the geographic area
One strategy suggested by participants to create such centres was to reinvest in Friendship Centres to enable them to be such a point of entry. Others suggested that cities needed to develop a vision and implement long-term strategies to provide transition and other support services as one aspect of municipal services.
It was noted by participants that one major barrier to successful transition was the fact that many urban Indigenous peoples do not have personal identification documents or driver licenses. It was suggested that every urban centre should provide support services to Indigenous peoples for the acquisition of personal identification documents and driver licenses. This would facilitate access to needed programs and services, as well as education and employment opportunities.
Culture and language
Participants stressed that a strong sense of cultural identity is the foundation for healing and reconciliation. It was noted that the current Urban Aboriginal Strategy's focus on participation in the economy ignored the importance of a strong cultural identity and pride as the basis for a person's ability to participate in the economy. It was suggested that a revised Urban Aboriginal Strategy should allow for cultural programming as this would contribute to strengthening the identity of the individual.
Traditional and culture-based programming was seen as essential to the well-being of all Indigenous peoples. Cultural education was viewed as an important and significant step to building awareness, knowledge, and understanding. First Nations, Inuit and Métis must be educated, informed and have an understanding of their cultural identity. Participants noted that the loss of culture resulted from many past practices, including Indigenous children having to go to school in a different language.
Participants stressed that the history of Indigenous peoples should be part of the curriculum taught in schools as this would build knowledge and raise awareness among the non-Indigenous population. Educational institutes noted that an Indigenous curriculum must be developed by Indigenous peoples.
Participants reflected on the number of children in foster care who could benefit from access to cultural programming. More education is recommended to raise awareness of Indigenous peoples and their issues within the urban areas, including in-class workshops for children. It was suggested that opportunities for children of different cultures to play and learn together would be ideal. Cultural and language programming for youth should include recreational activities and back to the land programs that teach traditional skills, allowing youth to reconnect with the land and traditional values. Similar types of programs should also be available to individuals who have been incarcerated to help them re-establish their sense of cultural identity. Participants stressed that the importance of intervener or other front-line workers having an understanding of the needs of Indigenous peoples could not be overstated.
Although migration from Indigenous communities to urban centres continues to happen, there are generations of Indigenous peoples who were born in urban centres and have never lived in their home communities. Establishment of programs that take into consideration Indigenous traditions and culture, and that provide the opportunity to connect with others are key to improve the ability of urban Indigenous peoples to deal with challenges in their lives whether they are social, cultural or economic.
Participants suggested that funding support for the coordination and the hosting of language projects be established. Language creates a connection between the older and younger people and forms the basis for their traditions and cultural practices. Elders play a key role in making that connection for Indigenous peoples.
Daycare and childcare
Many Indigenous peoples within urban environments are young families including single parents, starting new careers or pursuing their education. Access to affordable daycare and childcare was seen as a fundamental for the success of these families. In some instances, parents who are studying are forced to give up their daycare space when they return home to their community during the summer.
Building an urban support network for Indigenous families who become involved with Child and Family Services across Canada was recognized as an important component of an urban support system. Participants called for a specific strategy to reduce family crisis, and the number of children in foster care. Part of the solution includes the provision of a broad range of programs and services to support Indigenous families living in urban centres. Key to the success of any family intervention would be the ability to provide culturally appropriate services with access to Indigenous language translation. There is also a need for increased funding for professional development and support for those who work in the child welfare system. This should include cultural sensitivity training, particularly for non-Indigenous support workers, and how to deal with intergenerational trauma.
Participants felt that in order to build sustainable communities in the future, youth have to be engaged from an early age. Most importantly, youth should be involved in the development of programs and services to address their needs and aspirations. It was suggested that a youth council be established to ensure that the voice of youth was heard in the development and implementation of future urban Indigenous programming. Indigenous youth are the fastest growing population in the country and more are pursuing post-secondary education.
Participants asked for dedicated funding for youth focused projects. Examples of projects include:
- mentorship and coaching programs
- programming promoting success for youth
- forums that showcase Indigenous role models
- leadership, employment opportunities and entrepreneurship programming
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and two-spirit (LGBTQ2) youth also require specific supports.
There was common agreement that there is a need to provide support services for secondary school and university students who arrive in the city to pursue studies, and for youth who are seeking employment. Many are living on their own for the first time without the support of family and friends and are trying to adjust to a new educational institution and urban life. Too often, they fall through the system because they are left on their own with little resources or contacts in the city to support them. An example of programs and services for youth was local student housing and transition supports.
Many participants expressed concern that the transition to a new national initiative might impact existing youth initiatives. Many feared that the closing of their doors, even for a short period of time, would have a negative impact on the trust that was built with their youth clientele and this would take years to rebuild.
Elder and seniors programming
Participants noted that there is a gap in programming for Indigenous Elders and seniors. It was seen as ideal to develop a place where they could come and gather with other Indigenous peoples to access the programs they needed. In addition, there are limited opportunities for Indigenous peoples in the city to access the services of Elders. The involvement of Elders in the delivery of programs and services was seen as important.
To support student success, there was a need for more youth and children programs and services, including education support services and programming in the local schools to help students stay in school until graduation. Programs that help students transition from surrounding communities to the urban service hubs are needed.
Participants suggested that residences should be built where Indigenous students could stay and be safe while they are going to school. Supports should be provided at the residence and include cultural programming. Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC), for example, made a large investment in Polytechnic Student Housing. The housing was open to all students but priority was given to Indigenous students. There was also a daycare service available.
In Thunder Bay, it was suggested that a residence be built off reserve where young people could stay while they are attending school or looking for work. This could also be a place where youth could receive Elder support, mentoring, and educational upgrading to increase mathematics and literacy skills.
Participants noted the need for apprenticeship and training programs off reserve to reduce skill shortages in the trades (plumbers, electricians, welders, crane operators, brick masons, carpenters and dental hygienists). However, low literacy and education levels as well as lack of access to training opportunities make it difficult for Indigenous students to pursue the trades. Participants suggested that alternate ways for youth and young adults to apprentice into the trades, particularly for those individuals who may not have the required qualifications could be funded.
Participants noted the need for programs that provide on on-the-job and essential skills training in partnership with companies. Employment readiness programs are important and links with employers for jobs or business start-up opportunities are needed.
Ideas provided by participants to help youth transition to the labour market included employment mentorship program, and on-the-job learning or training for young people. Support could also be provided to employers who participate in this type of program so they can assist youth's transition from school to a career. It was also highlighted that youth are graduating but there are little to no job opportunities for them. It was noted that training programs should not operate in isolation from employment opportunities.
Many participants expressed the need for an investment in infrastructure, including physical infrastructures in urban areas. There had been no investment in constructing the needed buildings and spaces to provide programs and services for urban Indigenous peoples. Any new approach to urban programming needs to be open to investments in capital projects. The needed infrastructure investments in urban centres identified by participants were those specifically focused on those that would allow for more day care spaces, and for gathering places.
Participants noted a variety of transportation issues that created barriers for those transitioning from remote or northern areas, including:
- the complexity of navigating within large cities
- the challenge of expensive and frequent journeys to access programs and services
It was noted that future urban Indigenous programming should consider flexible funding to allow the development of initiatives that could deal with transportation issues. In addition, transportation support should be considered as an eligible expense.
Housing and homelessness
The majority of participants agreed that homelessness is a complex issue that cannot be addressed by one program. As a result there is a need for an integrated strategy to address the root causes of homelessness. It was noted that organizations need to begin working together to better link life supports with housing structures, as current housing models do not fit all of the Indigenous peoples living in the city.
Participants also noted any new urban program for Indigenous peoples should focus on the themes identified by the communities themselves, as it would be difficult to have a single response to homelessness. Programs such as Housing First, which provides assistance to people in finding a new home in a safe neighborhood, acts as a stepping-stone for people to advance their lives.
Participants focused on the lack of affordable and available housing, which leads to an increase in social issues due to overcrowding. Challenges in finding housing for young mothers with children, and young adults were noted. Other issues that were raised regarding housing included: the gaps in short-term housing for individuals seeking medical treatment, and in transitional housing particularly for individuals discharged from detoxification programs or incarceration; eviction from housing due to addictions; and overcrowding.
Dealing with landlords and educating Indigenous peoples about their rights as tenants was identified as an area where housing navigators could assist. Participants indicated that people come into the city, look for housing, sign a lease and then end up breaking the lease as they are not been able to find work within the first 2-3 months of their arrival, and therefore, can't pay their rent. They confirmed that there remains a need for life skills training for certain members of the urban Indigenous population including numeracy and literacy, and the rights and responsibilities of being a tenant or a homeowner.
A working group that looks into housing opportunities and issues should be established in every urban area. It was suggested that the renewed urban programming for Indigenous peoples must invest in the establishment of working groups with the needed expertise to identify and address these issues. The establishment of urban housing navigation services was recommended.
Mental health and addiction services
It was noted that the impacts of residential schools and other associated intergenerational trauma continue to be the root cause of mental health and addictions, challenges that are faced by a significant portion of the urban Indigenous population. Many stories were shared on the shortage of mental health practitioners and the need for cultural/land-based healing models and services. Some stated that insufficient support leads to many other issues such as unemployment, homelessness and suicide.
In terms of addictions, it was stated that more treatment centres, addictions services, post-addiction treatment, and aftercare programs are needed in the urban areas. When individuals complete their treatment, there is often no post-addiction aftercare to support their transition back into society.
For trauma related issues, more counselors, including services for children who witness abuse, as well as sexual abuse counselors for children, are required.
Increasing the access to culturally sensitive, safe, mental health and addictions services is seen as an investment where many other challenges facing Indigenous peoples could be overcome. Many participants agreed that investing in organizations that could improve access to mental health services for Indigenous peoples through direct provision, and coordinated or strategic approaches is important.Participants stressed the need for First Nation, Inuit and Métis specific programming that had a connection to communities. Suicide prevention programming should be developed by the community and provided locally. Too often, outside professionals arrive in small, remote communities during a crisis and stay for only a few weeks. There needs to be a more broad approach to healing that focuses on the place of the individual in the community and provides a continuum of support throughout the different stages of the healing process. Getting clients into the system of care is a challenge and once they are in, it can take up to 6 months to see a professional. It was noted that many large urban centres are multi-cultural and should provide opportunities to integrate new activities and concepts based on Indigenous traditions of healing and wellness.
Participants reflected on the meaning of Health care as the maintenance or improvement of health via the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease, illness, injury, and other physical and mental impairments. Health care delivery is complicated by the number of providers who can be involved in care such as physicians, physician associates, dentists, midwifes, nurses, optometrists, pharmacists, psychologists, and others. Navigating this complex system was seen as an area where urban Indigenous programming could have an impact. For participants access to all aspects of health care was one of the primary reasons that many travelled to and remained in urban areas. Supporting organizations to provide programs and services that improve Indigenous access to the health care system was seen as a worthy investment. Providing guidance for Indigenous peoples who come from communities to the hospitals in urban centres was seen as one way to improve access and quality of care.
Justice and legal support
Participants stated that there is a need to establish justice and legal support to assist Indigenous peoples who find themselves involved with the justice system. For example, Indigenous inmates stay in confinement because of the limited support to meet conditional release requirements. Services such as life skills and employment counselling to help individuals transition back into society when they are released from incarceration should be established. Organizations like the John Howard or Elizabeth Fry Societies recognized the increase in their Indigenous clientele and expressed the desire to meet the cultural needs of their new clients and seek ways to improve their services.
Indigenous families also require assistance navigating the justice system when children are taken into care or when families go through the breakdown of a relationship. According to some participants, institutional racism remains a barrier. To help address this, participants suggested that there should be a requirement for justice caseworkers to undergo cultural sensitivity training, and more efforts should be made to encourage more Indigenous people to work within the justice system.
Participants from the northern regions highlighted their unique challenges with the justice system. For example, in the Northwest Territories, if an individual is brought to Yellowknife for trial and found not guilty, they would be responsible for paying their transport to return home. The reintegration of offenders into small close-knit communities also presents certain challenges. More support for alternative and restorative justice initiatives could assist in these circumstances.
Design and delivery
Access to core and multi-year funding
There was an overwhelming agreement that the current one year program funding cycle presents significant challenges for small not-for-profit service delivery organizations that lack the capacity to cash manage, and that it also impedes the hiring and retention of qualified staff.
There is a need for core and multi-year funding to allow for long term planning and innovation. Many Indigenous not-for-profit organizations have the potential to manage service delivery over the long term but they lack the capacity and resources to meet the needs of the growing urban Indigenous population. Participants also recommended that core funding be provided to support the coordination of partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous service delivery organizations and governments.
It was noted that the federal government should take back the responsibility of administering the Urban Aboriginal Strategy until they could clarify the best approach for its management and delivery. Participants stated that there must be an accountability process for those organizations that were given funds to allocate to the community and at the various levels of government, including Indigenous governments.
Inclusive without losing specificityParticipants agreed that it is important for First Nations, Inuit and Métis to have equal access to program funding and services. A number of Inuit participants stated that they do not usually access the services of some organizations because they would only apply to First Nations and Métis. There was also a general consensus that while it is important to be inclusive of all Indigenous peoples, this should not be a funding requirement. Inuit and Métis noted that they would like to see a more distinction-based approach. In some instances, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis organizations may wish to develop programs and services to meet the specific cultural needs of their communities. Participants did raise the concern that distinctions-based funding would reduce the funding envelope, particularly if it is carved out further by communities and political organizations.
A northern urban strategy
Participants in the northern roundtables noted that the North did not really have the opportunity to take advantage of funding through the Urban Aboriginal Strategy as it did not have history with the program and the establishment of relationships takes time (the Urban Aboriginal Strategy had a very limited presence in the North before 2014). It was suggested that renewed funding for urban Indigenous programming should consider the establishment of a "northern" component with programs and services that meet the specific needs of the Northern Indigenous communities. Participants said that an initial investment would increase the capacity of northern communities to identify needs and plan for the creation of an effective delivery infrastructure. New program terms and conditions should continue to allow for implementation from a northern perspective, and allow for the community to mobilize and develop community-based strategies and initiatives.
An investment in Northern infrastructure was suggested to allow for the housing of needed professionals and their offices. There was also a need for a different way of looking at what "urban" means in the North. The issue of isolation was a challenge in the North because of a lack of broadband and Internet, which limited access to education, for example.
Inuit specific programming
Participants identified the need for funding for Inuit-specific programs/services. It was also noted that Inuit need to be involved in the development of programs whether it is within an urban task group or as a separate initiative specific to them. Any changes to the Urban Aboriginal Strategy should ensure that all Indigenous peoples sit on the various tables and are equitably able to access funding opportunities.
Participants recognized that Friendship Centres required more resources and funding, including funds to improve their infrastructure, and capacity to continue to expand their programs and services.Representatives from Friendship Centres mentioned that having the National Association of Friendship Centres as the delivery agent of the Urban Aboriginal Strategy led, in some cases, to a fractured community as local organizations had to compete against each other to access the same funding envelope.
An Indigenous service hub
Participants stressed the need to provide support to all urban Indigenous peoples, through the establishment of mechanisms for "urban triage". Such triage is based on the availability of qualified and knowledgeable staff who can meet with individuals and families in a safe place and who could direct families and individuals to organizations that could provide the programs and supports they needed. Urban triage could be accomplished through the creation of a central known location that would provide referral services and that would play a key role in ensuring that staff in service organizations have the required cultural knowledge and competencies.
In some of the smaller urban centres, participants recommended that all services be centralized under an umbrella organization in a multi-functional centre. This would provide more anonymity for individuals wishing to access mental health and addictions services. It would also help reinforce the whole approach to healing and wellness and the interconnectedness of programs and services.
In the larger urban centres, participants noted that it might be more appropriate to establish service hubs in different parts of the city or even in outlying, smaller communities to facilitate access to programs and services. The development of a virtual hub could be another option for providing a supportive web presence, especially for youth.
In addition to providing referral and support services, a central gathering place where individuals and families from all walks of life can come together for cultural and recreational activities, where they can benefit from a range of programs and services that help maintain their cultural identity and foster their integration into the broader urban Indigenous community, was suggested.
The service hub should be inclusive of all First Nations, Inuit and Métis regardless of their community of origin. At the same time, it was suggested that there could be culturally specific spaces in the hub for the different Indigenous communities. It was noted that similar types of programs and services are currently accessible to new Canadians.
Knowledge and research
Participants identified a need for better information about the urban Indigenous population and their specific needs. Such information would be used to improve evidence-based decision-making and the determination of future programming needs. Participants also expressed interest in understanding why people are leaving their communities to live in urban centres and if this migration could be mitigated by improved programming on-reserve.
Participants agreed that there is a lack of statistical information about the transient urban Indigenous population, and agreed that there is a need for a new approach to data collection that includes both qualitative and quantitative research. This research should be locally driven. There is also a need for an asset map of existing programs and services in the areas of health, child and family services, justice and employment to determine where the gaps are in each urban centre. This should include Indigenous, federal, provincial and municipal programming.
Participants noted that there is a lot of good work happening at the community level across the country. It is important to celebrate the achievements of individuals and organizations working to improve the lives of urban Indigenous peoples. Participants recommended that there be support for national gatherings to allow Indigenous service providers and other stakeholders to identify and share best practices. There should be an analysis of the economic contribution of all Indigenous organizations across Canada. In Vancouver for example, Indigenous organizations contribute $1B to the local economy.
The Indigenous leadership should become more involved with urban Indigenous issues and all governments should work collaboratively with local service providers to ensure that the needs of all urban Indigenous peoples are being met. Relationships with political organizations should be built at the community level, where appropriate, and developed at the pace of the community.
Participants stated that there needed for stronger accountability to Indigenous governments. It was noted that the Prime Minister's mandate letter to each federal Minister included reference to the re-establishment of the nation-to-nation relationship, and the importance of that relationship to the Government. Indigenous organizations in urban setting need to be part of that nation-to-nation approach working with both Indigenous and Canadians governments. Participants also stated that the concept of nation-to-nation within an urban environment had not been defined and had always been a struggle.
It was noted that First Nation Chiefs and Councils represent their members and it did not matter where they reside. They now require the capacity and resources to ensure their members obtain the programs and services they needed. Funding cuts to Tribal Councils, mostly located in urban communities, meant that many First Nations were no longer able to support and advocate for First Nations in urban areas.
One recommendation was to have the federal government establish an Indigenous caucus to become a sounding board for urban Indigenous issues and provide oversight in the development of policy and programs. Urban Indigenous peoples need to be more engaged on committees, boards, etc., and be part of the decision-making in the city. It was also felt that the Urban Aboriginal Strategy should be broken down into the different specific Indigenous groups (First Nation, Inuit and Métis), as each group know the specific needs of their own people.
Throughout the 21 engagement sessions, participants shared successful strategies and initiatives for urban Indigenous peoples in cities across Canada. They included processes and practices that participants have stated needed investment and could be reproduced in areas with similar needs and capacities. The best practices shared have been culturally grounded, collaborative in nature, community lead and designed with many establishing ties with First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities and governments.
Participants in a number of the sessions noted the success of the federal Aboriginal Headstart in Urban and Northern Communities Program. The reason behind its' success is that it focuses on early childhood development for First Nations, Inuit and Métis children living off reserve but also involves and supports the whole family. Childcare was needed in urban centres, including childcare programming and support for children with special needs and it was suggested that similar programs should be established to provide support to urban Indigenous children and youth.
On-the-job training program where potential employers work to develop a training program to meet their specific requirements was also identified as a successful program because chances of being hired by the company increases when the individual completes the program.
There are many Indigenous and non-Indigenous not-for-profit organizations operating in urban centres that provide similar or complimentary programs and services. Participants recognized that these organizations bring value to the table, but it is important for them to coordinate their efforts to avoid duplication, and to ensure that programs and services meet the needs of the urban Indigenous population. It was suggested that any new program should encourage and financially support the collaboration between service delivery organizations in their attempt to coordinate a continuum of care for their clients.
Participants also noted the importance of building partnerships with municipal, provincial and federal governments as well as the private sector. For example, city councilors mentioned that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities is looking for ways to strengthen and support relationships with urban Indigenous organizations, political organizations and municipal governments. It would like to provide funding at some level, to ensure better overall coordination of programs and services to address priorities and needs of the urban Indigenous communities. An Indigenous Working Group has been set up to facilitate this process.
Partnership tables and coalitions to address the needs of urban Indigenous peoples were noted to be a successful practice. There were a number of members present at the regional roundtables from existing collaborative partnership tables and coalitions that had received Urban Aboriginal Strategy funding in the past (e.g. Calgary Urban Aboriginal Initiative, Metro Vancouver Executive Aboriginal Council, Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition, Aboriginal Coalition of Lethbridge and Toronto Aboriginal Services Support Council). According to some of them, the reason why partnership tables and coalitions have been successful is that they bring together a diversity of organizations and levels of government to develop joint approaches to address the needs of the urban Indigenous population in a particular urban centre.
Coalition members also noted that Urban Aboriginal Strategy funding had provided them with the ability to leverage funds from other organizations that in turn were exposed to the needs of the urban Indigenous community. Another factor that contributed to their success was that funding decisions were made collectively, with each organization contributing the services and resources that they could manage, to address a particular need. Members acknowledged that, in some instances, it had taken years to build a trusting relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations and with different levels of government. There was a general agreement that these types of collaborative initiatives represent a good example of reconciliation in action and present a real opportunity for municipalities and other levels of government to become an engaged partner in addressing the challenges of urban Indigenous peoples.
Participants recognized that Friendship Centres are an important component of urban program and service delivery and that they have a long history of being the first point of contact for Indigenous peoples living in urban centres across Canada. In some instances, especially in the North, they remain the only Indigenous service provider or the only welcoming and safe place where Indigenous peoples can go to access services, cultural programming and recreational activities.
It was clear in all discussions across the country that the overall vision and goal for urban Indigenous programming is the creation of a national network of services and programs to assist Indigenous peoples no matter where they reside. This translated into a continuum of services for Indigenous peoples from home to the urban environment, based on Indigenous values, designed and delivered by Indigenous peoples.
It was also clear that there is a desire to work collaboratively and collectively on strategies and implementation plans based on local knowledge, capacity and experience, with a connection to Indigenous governments and representative organizations. A greater investment is needed in the Indigenous communities away from home with an allocation more reflective of where Indigenous peoples live. More flexible, predictable and timely funding is also needed so that organizations have the ability to intervene when the window of opportunity presents itself. This would provide them with the ability to plan, measure, react and be pro-active in supporting, promoting and meeting the needs of the Urban Indigenous peoples of Canada.