‘Historic’ agreement for city and native centre
June 26, 2018
St. Catharines city council approved signing a memorandum of understanding with Niagara Regional Native Centre Monday night in what the mayor called a “historic moment” for the city.
Members of the centre were at city hall for the unanimous council vote, which directs city staff to continue to work with the centre on consultation and engagement initiatives.
“It’s taken a lot to get where we are today,” Chris Shawanoo, executive director of Niagara Regional Native Centre, told councillors.
“In the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation is how we have brought this new memorandum of understanding to being. It’s going to take us some time, but this is an amazing first step, and for that I applaud you.”
At the same time, Shawanoo told council that when it comes to Indigenous people signing legal documentation with various levels of government it doesn’t come very easily.
“It comes with skepticism. It comes with reluctance,” he said, adding when he signs with his clan beside his name, he is representing the next generations to come. He said he was taking direction from his own council, who said the memorandum is a good thing and something they needed.
“I’ll do my best within this document that we acknowledge today that everything is taken into consideration.”
The memorandum of understanding is aimed at promoting co-operation and consultation between the city and Niagara Regional Native Centre.
It establishes the centre as the city’s principal advisory body on Indigenous matters.
It also outlines areas where the partners will engage in collaborative consultation, including implementing the calls to action published by the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015 which identified responsibilities for all levels of government.
Areas of consultation also include educating and training city staff and elected officials on Indigenous issues to promote competency, understanding and sensitivity.
“This is going to be a very genuine, fruitful relationship. The path that we’re on starts with us together,” Mayor Walter Sendzik said during the council meeting.
“This is the start of something. For our city this is a historic moment.”
The memorandum also commits the city to consult with the centre on developing new — or reviewing existing — city policies, procedures, processes and bylaws that impact Indigenous peoples. The fire department, for instance, in collaboration with the centre is reviewing the city’s open burning bylaw in accordance with the principles of sacred and ceremonial fires.
The city will also consult with the centre on events and activities featuring or involving Indigenous culture and other cultural interpretation matters.
St. Catharines has worked with the centre for several years on various issues, such as by supporting the annual pow wow in Montebello Park and engaging the centre to help determine the future of the Centennial Gardens totem pole, but the memorandum formalizes the relationship.
“This is a huge start for us, having this connection,” said Darcy Belanger, vice-president of Niagara Regional Native Centre. “It’s very important for our community, for the whole entire community.”
As part of the memorandum, the city and centre will meet at least once a year to review opportunities to work together and talk about each party’s strategic objectives.