Like many Ontarians, I often find myself trying to balance my career life with that of being a dad. I can honestly say that while being a politician and a father, both jobs come with some real challenges, but I couldn’t be happier and more proud to have the opportunity to fulfill my duties for each of these roles. I seldom miss an opportunity to share the pride I have in my family, nor do I ever hesitate to expound upon the outstanding attributes of our Algoma-Manitoulin region. But, as I always say, our greatest resource is the strength of our caring, talented and resourceful people.
I mention this pride because recently I learned that one of our former residents who was raised in this area was honoured with very prestigious national recognition called the Indspire Award. These awards are presented annually to recognize, celebrate and encourage excellent efforts and contributions of individuals within their Indigenous community.
Dianne Corbiere roots are from M’Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island. She is currently a managing partner of a legal firm in Chippewas of Rama First Nation. Recently Ms. Corbiere was presented with the Indspire Award in the Law and Justice category in recognition of her commitment and outstanding work on treaty and Aboriginal rights for First Nations. To be sure, being a citizen with strong roots in M’Chigeeng First Nation was instrumental in formulating Dianne’s career path. And I am quite sure this background will to lead toward continued success in her future endeavours. It is always wonderful to hear of such outstanding recognition of one of our own.
Here in Queen’s Park, I wish I could say that Ontarians witnessed our own government exhibiting the same respect and appreciation of Indigenous people. Last fall, the Ford Conservatives quietly cut $2.25 million from the Indigenous Culture Fund, leaving four Indigenous women out of a job and throwing the future of the program into uncertainty. The fund came about as a result of recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was an effort to support cultural revitalization projects in Indigenous communities.
Many of the Indigenous people who are fluent in their mother tongue are in the elder stages of their journey. Unfortunately, however, time is often a limitation to passing on valued skills, traditions and knowledge. No Indigenous community should have to worry that vital parts of their identity, like language, will be lost forever. It’s simply wrong to rip opportunities away from Elders to pass on important traditional practices to youth by ending funding that was working toward righting the wrongs of the Residential Schools and generations of colonization.
MPP Sol Mamakwa, Ontario NDP critic for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, is urging Doug Ford to heed calls from Indigenous peoples from across the province who recently rallied at Queen’s Park to save the Indigenous Culture Fund. Mamakwa said, “If the Ford Conservatives cared about reconciliation, they would not be making cuts to the Indigenous Culture Fund.”
Mamakwa has also been calling on the Ford Government to take immediate action on the health crisis in Cat Lake First Nation where a state of emergency has been declared. Readers will recall the issue of finding black mould in most homes there. As a result of the mould, children and elders are experiencing severe illness. Many children are found to be suffering from red rashes and sores as a result of exposure to the black mould. Unfortunately, the community is now mourning the death of Nashie Oombash, a 48-year-old wife and grandmother whose death has been attributed to the mould.
A great many of the homes in Cat Lake are absolutely uninhabitable, some beyond repair. The province has not only a moral obligation to act on this situation, but a legal obligation to act. Ontario is a signatory to Treaty 9, and as such, the province is responsible for health in First Nations communities.
Since the Ford Government took office last spring, there has been little evidence that they are serious about establishing a respectful relationship with Indigenous peoples. Doug Ford removed reconciliation from the mandate of the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, he cut funding for Indigenous curriculum development and he cut Ontario’s Indigenous Culture Fund. In addition to not acting on the Cat Lake First Nation state of emergency, the government has made no movement to clean up mercury-contaminated sites in the English and Wabigoon Rivers affecting Grassy Narrows First Nations and Wabaseemoong. We have seen too many examples in this province where instead of moving forward, Doug Ford is moving backwards in the Province’s treaty obligations and relationship with Indigenous peoples in Ontario.
If the government is to start building a path towards reconciliation with Indigenous people in Ontario, an important step in that direction would be to ensure that fundamental human rights and rights as Indigenous people are respected under provincial law. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended the UN Declaration as a legal framework towards that goal.
For this reason, New Democrats are supporting a bill by Sol Mamakwa that would align the laws of Ontario with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This bill represents much-needed action at the provincial level towards creating a new relationship with Indigenous peoples.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters.
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