First Nations arriving in Thunder Bay, Ont., to attend school are made to feel less welcome than refugees or other minorities moving to the northern Ontario city, according to a local MP.
Patty Hajdu was reacting on Tuesday to a CBC News report comparing the warm welcome received by a family of Syrian refugees to the reports of racism experienced by First Nations youth.
"It's appalling, it's ashaming for my community, but for our country as well, that indigenous young people who come to Thunder Bay to study are subjected to racism that includes things like people flinging things out of cars at them or demeaning hate speech that they face," Hajdu said.
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An inquest currently underway into the deaths of seven First Nations students in Thunder Bay has heard testimony from several youth who said they had eggs and racist taunts thrown at them from passing cars in the city.
People of colour who have moved to Thunder Bay from other Canadian cities tell Hajdu that racism is different in northern Ontario, she said.
"There's a certain level of animosity towards indigenous people that's the result of the colonization, the lack of education in our school systems," Hajdu said.
Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day said the arrival of Syrian refugees could be an opportunity to start a conversation about the needs of all people who are new to urban life in Canada.
"I have to ask myself, what is the difference between those refugees and First Nations leaving their communities to find much better living and quality of life?" Day said.
Immigrants and First Nations youth in Thunder Bay have many things in common, including the need to adapt to unfamiliar language, food and climate, according to Moffat Makudo.
He immigrated to Canada from Africa and began working with young people from remote reserves after he identified a lack of services for them.
"Here we have the multicultural associations welcoming immigrants and refugees, but I saw nothing welcoming aboriginal students," Makudo said.