THUNDER BAY – It’s well understood that one of the first steps to confronting a challenge is acknowledging there is a problem.
For a number of the largest and most impactful organizations in Thunder Bay, it means recognizing the existence of systemic racism and committing to build a unified approach.
Eleven groups, led by the city and Fort William First Nation, along with education and health authorities and emergency services – on Tuesday signed a Thunder Bay Anti-Racism and Inclusion Accord, vowing to address racism in the community while advancing equity and diversity.
Fort William First Nation chief executive officer Ken Ogima said Thunder Bay is in the relatively early stages of diversity.
“To walk the streets and see that we’re represented by almost every ethnic culture there is out there is exciting but it’s scary at the same time,” Ogima said. “Thunder Bay is highly racial. The discrimination and the racism is very much alive.”
The accord commits to advancing equity and diversity in the sectors of government, education, children and youth services, health care, emergency services, municipal services, libraries and business.
Each organization signed commits to address racism against Indigenous and racialized populations by setting short and long-term goals to meet calls to action or recommendations stemming from the Seven Youth Inquest, Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
“Having a collective the way that we do today, the accord we have in place today, is really the starting point in putting checks and balances within our community to address discrimination and racism,” Ogima said.
“It’s not just an Indigenous issue. How will Indigenous children benefit? The same way any other marginalized group will benefit from it.”
Other commitments include supporting the ongoing truth and reconciliation process in their organizations and throughout the community by developing respectful relationships with Indigenous governments, organizations and people. The will also be annual public reporting on whether goals are being met, starting next June.
Thunder Bay city manager Norm Gale said one of the city’s first priorities is to self-evaluate.
“We’re going to look inside. We’re going to do an examination of what, if any, systemic racism exists and we’re going to look at what we’re going to do about it if it exists,” Gale said. “To get there we’re going to consult. We’re going to seek advice as to the ways and means of how to do that work.”
Thunder Bay Police Service acting chief Sylvie Hauth said there is strength in numbers.
“I think we as a service want not only to serve and protect but ensure that the service we are providing is with respect and dignity and that we appreciate the diversity in our community,” Hauth said. “When you have so many organizations here at the table, we show that we are committed as a group towards making those changes within our community.”
The police service had previously launched an organizational change project that is looking at their recruiting practices, the existing Aboriginal liaison unit and its mandate and focusing on staff training.
Gale welcomed more public and private sector entities, as well as non-profits and community members, to join.
“We’d like to see this broaden into a grassroots movement where people like me can get out of the way and where it becomes a truly community based effort,” Gale said.
“That’s not to discount a lot of the great work that’s been going on now but this is about enhancement. This is about expansion, about more power.”
Thunder Bay Anti-Racism and Inclusion Accord
- City of Thunder Bay
- Fort William First Nation
- Matawa First Nations Management
- Thunder Bay Police Service
- Lakehead University
- Confederation College
- Lakehead Public School Board
- Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board
- Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre
- St. Joseph's Care Group
- Thunder Bay Public Library