[Thunder Bay] Mayor sets a new [Aboriginal] priority – Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal Editorial (December 21, 2011)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

IN some ways, Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs’ State of the City address was standard fare — pride in development; careful, targeted spending; looking to the future. But sprinkled throughout his speech at city council this week were new themes that speak to priorities that are important because he’s making them Thunder Bay priorities.

Foremost among these is a determination to live in harmony with First Nations. Whether neighbouring Fort William or distant communities like Webequie, Mayor Hobbs is making it his business to collaborate with aboriginal leaders to make Thunder Bay a more welcoming place.

Having visited four Far North first nations this year, the mayor remarked how warmly he was welcomed. But while “hundreds of people from these communities” come to Thunder Bay each year “for their schooling, medical needs and business,” the welcome isn’t always warm. While “it seems only right that we do whatever we can to work together on a brighter future for all,” left unsaid was the terrible cultural dichotomy that divides the native and non-native communities here.

“Did you know that there are 4,800 aboriginal families in Thunder Bay, 48 per cent of whom own their own homes?” the mayor asked. Chances are most Thunder Bayans did not know. Fortunately, there is a growing determination in the city to recognize the largely quiet success of many aboriginal residents. It’s an example to many impressionable youth that may draw them away from the perils that have befallen others.

Mayor Hobbs made particular mention of the city’s advisory committee on anti-racism. Its large membership can appear unwieldy, but its members’ individual tragedies serve to build toward a strong, joint effort to rid Thunder Bay of the ugliness of racism. Bigotry and cruelty manifest themselves in many ways, but they must not be permitted in a city that has been built by and upon a wide cross-section of cultures.

The Fort William First Nation is a particular priority for Mayor Hobbs who presided in October with Chief Peter Collins at a Declaration of Commitment between the city council and band council. Instead of two footprints, which is how Chief Collins said these neighbours used to walk, the mayor said, “Now it’s time for a new journey for us — we’ve created one footprint that looks at better opportunities for both communities, and beyond. It’s a public demonstration that we’re working together, and we understand each other.”

A diversified economy, infrastructure improvements, exciting new developments — all of these are essential to Thunder Bay in the 21st century. But none of them will matter as much if we can’t get along.

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