THUNDER BAY – A community forum hosted by the CBC at Confederation College in early October focussed on building bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The Respect campaign adopted by the City was mentioned as a positive strategy to bring us together. The challenge is putting into action the understanding and compromises required to resolve differences and divergent lifestyles so that we can work together towards shared goals and get along.
One case in point is curfews rejected by City Council in 2011 at the recommendation of the Crime Prevention Council. The arguments presented centred on their ineffectiveness to prevent crime, even though they are already part of our legal system to enhance public safety. First Nations education authorities on the other hand have adopted curfews for their high school students’ safety while studying in our community. Families back home want to be assured that their children are not roaming around city streets late at night. And boarding parents who are kind and generous enough to house the students rely on curfews to have them indoors at specified hours.
In the light of the City’s Respect campaign, we feel that First Nations that are proactive by adopting curfews should have been consulted before the idea was rejected. With the number of Aboriginal students who have died while attending school in Thunder Bay, their perspective on the matter should be considered and respected. It is unlikely that First Nations will go along with the City’s decision and abandon curfews unless alternative solutions are offered to guarantee the safety of their young students who must leave home and come here for high school. Hence our call for the new City Council to revisit the issue and reconcile with First Nations school authorities and parents who need our help to keep their children safe. This will show that our community cares about protecting unsupervised minors at night, and shares some responsibility over the wellbeing of Aboriginal boarding students living in our city.
The Regional Multicultural Youth Council (RMYC) supports curfews in line with the Child and Family Services Act. We wrote to the Ontario Attorney General for guidance, and the response was as follows: “With regard to a curfew by-law, the establishment of by-laws is the responsibility of the local municipality subject to the Municipality Act and other statutes that may apply to municipal by-laws. I would suggest that you continue to pursue this matter with the Thunder Bay Council and municipal staff.” Therefore, we feel that City Council, Crime Prevention Council, Thunder Bay Police Service/Aboriginal Liaison Unit, and other stakeholders should consult with the First Nations and boarding parents, and come up with a mutually agreed plan for keeping ‘visiting’ students safe.
In spite of negative experiences with residential schools, First Nations continue to send their children away to study. They value education as investment for progress and prosperity into the future, and want equitable funding and control to improve the outcomes. Social development studies confirm that the quality of life and standard of living improve with every year of schooling completed. Graduates contribute to the economy and are role models of success by breaking the cycle of welfare, poverty, despair, addictions and criminality. Corrections Canada statistics reveal that 80 percent of young offenders in federal institutions have below grade 10 education, and 65 percent have less than grade 8. In addition to the pain, mental anguish, physical damage and lost production caused by crime, we also pay heavily to lock people up. According to the 2013-2014 Office of the Correctional Investigator’s report, it costs $117,788.00 on average to keep a male offender in custody, and $211,618.00 per year for a federally sentenced woman inmate. Individuals requiring such expensive institutional care can be greatly reduced if we work together and implement measures that improve the academic success and safety of all children and youth.
Each one of us can play a role by welcoming and supporting Aboriginal students migrating to the city to make them feel accepted and lessen the culture shock. They need homes to stay, help to learn urban lifeskills and acquire social etiquette, empowerment to resist negative influences, and compassion to heal from addictions. Many suffer from the intergenerational trauma of residential schools which feeds into stereotypes, prejudice, racism and discrimination. This requires empathy and our encouragement to enable them to follow their academic dreams and realize their goals.
The RMYC has developed a reception and orientation program for First Nation students to ease transition to city life. We run a peer-led after-school program at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School where we plan and organize together extra-curricular activities that promote healthy lifestyles and wellness. We are also working with boards of education to make our schools safer, more accepting, inclusive and equitable so that more students graduate.
First Nations have adopted curfews to enhance the safety, wellbeing and achievement of their students, and rather than do it alone, the City should support them in this regard. This gesture will show respect and add a step towards building harmony with far reaching long-term safety, security and economic benefits for everyone.
Samantha Smith, Shane Wong, Jeevan Chahal, Regional Multicultural Youth Council
Moffat Makuto, Multicultural Youth Centre