Almost 2 out of 3 Indigenous people in Hamilton feel discrimination in city: survey

A new survey of Indigenous Hamiltonians says 41 per cent have experienced discrimination by the city at least some of the time, and 63 per cent feel it in the broader community.

Indigenous residents also say they want space for spirit and ceremony - without a 30-minute drive

Wilamina McGrimmond says she's not surprised by the answers around discrimination. "I've gotten used to fighting back to get heard." (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

A new survey of Indigenous Hamiltonians says 41 per cent have experienced discrimination by the city at least some of the time, and 63 per cent feel it in the broader community. 

The survey is part of Hamilton's new urban Indigenous strategy, which aims to improve services to Indigenous residents.

Twenty-nine per cent of the 133 Indigenous survey respondents say they are "sometimes" discriminated against when they use city services. Six per cent said they experience it often, and another 6 per cent always. 

I've gotten used to fighting back to get heard.- Wilamina McGrimmond

In the broader community, 43 per cent said they feel it sometimes, while 13 per cent said often and 7 per cent said always. Most said the frequency of discrimination hasn't changed much in the last two years.

For Indigenous people, these numbers aren't surprising, said Shylo Elmayan, the strategy's senior project manager. But that means plenty have suggestions too.

Hilary Wren, Shylo Elmayan and Wilamina McGrimmond discuss possible solutions at an event Monday. Elmayan gave an update on the urban Indigenous strategy she's leading. Wren is a public health services health strategy specialist. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Do you know about the Dish with One Spoon treaty?

Most respondents said they thought discrimination would ease if non-Indigenous people knew more shared history. 

Results show they'd like people to be more informed about, for example, the Dish with One Spoon wampum agreement. This treaty, signed in 1701 with the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee nations, is an agreement to live together peacefully and share hunting grounds.

They also want people to better understand colonial impacts such as residential schools.

"So many of them said if people only knew the true history, if people understood the residential school experience and intergenerational traumas, if people understood the impact the criminal justice or child welfare systems have had on our families, then maybe they wouldn't judge us," Elmayan said.

Non-Indigenous people want to know more, she said. This will be part of the strategy she'll bring to city council early next year.

In October, for example, the Hamilton Public Library hosted the well-attended KAIROS Blanket Exercise, Elmayan said. She's talking to the library about hosting more events like that.

Overall, 513 people responded to the survey. Of those, 455 surveys were done online and the rest in person.

Seventy-three per cent weren't Indigenous. Of the Indigenous respondents, 68 per cent have lived in Hamilton for more than 10 years.

Cultural places people can get to by bus

Indigenous access of green space was another recurring theme.

Indigenous respondents said they want a garden where youth and elders can work together to grow Indigenous plants. They want to use traditional knowledge to rehabilitate vacant land. They also want to be able to use public land for ceremonial or spiritual practices — without having to pay a fee.

Brenda Jacobs, cultural competency co-ordinator at the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre, said that last part is key. People who want access to sweat lodges and spiritual spaces have to travel to Six Nations or New Credit — if they can.

These things "can be here too," she said. "Right on the bus route."

Wilamina McGrimmond, an east-end resident, attended an event Monday where Elmayan gave a strategy progress report. There were also group sessions.

McGrimmond wasn't surprised by the discrimination findings. "I've been dealing with it for years."

She wants a strategy, she said, that will bring "a lot of good for the youth.

"I want to see the youth get educated and go forward, instead of staying stuck."

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca