As the member of council who brought this item forward in November, I spoke to it this morning at the committee meeting. My remarks were as follows (check against delivery):
Thank you, Mr. Chair. And thank you to our planner for this report and for collecting these public comments.
I want to speak for a few minutes on this item as I think we have reached a watershed moment in this process this morning and it’s time to move forward.
I was disappointed with the process that council adopted to address this topic, and I believe council has, so far, missed an opportunity to show leadership on this issue and on our journey of reconciliation. I think my disappointment is shared by many people who wrote to us, and I’d like to channel some of their reflections and talk about how we should take action to address them together.
The consequence of this is that we have allowed a debate to fester about whether “Colonization” has been harmful or is racist.
Respectfully, framing this issue in this way was a disservice to our citizens and our neighbours. It’s also given life to more bigotry in this community than we see in these letters before us, much of it printed anonymously in the Fort Frances Times.
That we have forced people – Indigenous citizens of this community – to write to us, gobsmacked, that we don’t appear to understand what colonization is – that troubles me.
Nicole Miller, a First Nations woman who lives in Fort Frances, writes that she cannot believe that she is being asked to write letters to convince the town to rename Colonization Road. She says, “I am confident that I do not have to educate our Mayor and Council on what Colonization is and what it means to some of your community members and neighbours. It has been in the forefront of the news for many years now.”
It troubles me that we would expect Nicole, or any other equity-seeking person to once again defend their humanity – after the TRC, after the guidance of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and a CBC documentary on this very issue. After all of these facts have been settled in our law and society, we asked them to do that again. And I think we did it purely because those who do not share their experience of colonization or racism refuse to acknowledge it or are uncomfortable with the truth.
But leaders need to speak truth, and the truth is that our approach has left us behind. We are now the last community to move on this – behind councils in our region that wouldn’t censure a Senator who spoke of the good of residential schools, and another one that wouldn’t accept a Pride resolution. Both of those communities have recognized “colonization” is a concept that they wanted to leave behind.
Today, with our consult process now complete, I daresay that the writing is on the wall in Fort Frances too. I counted more than 240 people who signed the letters we have before us. Of those, I only count 10 who are opposed. Their reasons, in my view, are fabricated, exaggerated, or abundantly surmountable. None of them should prevent us from moving forward.
As leaders in a treaty territory, it is incumbent on us to recognize historic and contemporary wrongs, but also to facilitate healing and set a vision for this community. We have claimed to do so in several of our own guiding documents – including our Declaration of Intent and Friendship with the Agency One First Nations, our recently-adopted strategic plan, and the territorial acknowledgement that now opens our council meetings.
If we care about those words, and mean them, we should act to do something real and visible to turn the page on the hurt they try to address.
Now that we have reached the end of a self-evident debate, it is for us, as leaders, to show where we stand on historic and present-day racism, and to do something forthright to acknowledge that Indigenous people – and Indigenous youth especially – have a role to play in the future of this community. I was particularly touched by the letter from the Treaty #3 Youth Executive, who wrote, “Tell us we are welcome here.” What better way than with a road for reconciliation?
And that is why today my request of the committee will be that we forward a report to Council which makes the following recommendations:
– Third, that a public ceremony be scheduled for the week of National Indigenous Peoples Day in June to celebrate the renaming of Colonization Road and to mark our continued commitment to live together as treaty people;
– Fourth, that the new names for Colonization Road be scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2022 with appropriate information made available to affected property owners in the interim; and
– Fifth, that one of the blue Colonization Road signs be gifted to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg and that another be retained in the Fort Frances Museum.
I welcome committee comments on that approach, but this is, in my view, the direction we ought to take moving forward, without further unnecessary delays.