Hamilton

Indigenous community leaders in Hamilton say city lacking consultation about encampments

Indigenous community leaders in Hamilton say the city isn't consulting First Nations groups about how it manages local encampments.

'There's been not a single email or phone call,' says Hamilton Regional Indian Centre's executive director

Audrey Davis, Hamilton Regional Indian Centre's executive director, said the city isn't doing enough to conduct meaningful consultation with Indigenous communities about how to manage local encampments. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Indigenous community leaders in Hamilton say the city isn't consulting First Nations groups about how it manages local encampments.

Audrey Davis, Hamilton Regional Indian Centre's executive director, told CBC Hamilton on Wednesday there's been not a single email or phone call about it — "none whatsoever," she said.

"There was no consultation on how can we coordinate this, how can we work with you, what resources do you have ... and the outreach has been there to try and get that happen."

Davis stood alongside Hamilton Community Legal Clinic's Indigenous justice coordinator Lyndon George, also known as NaWalka Geeshy Meegwun — LongFeather, and Jordan Carrier, a Plains Cree woman and local organizer on Wednesday, in front of an encampment near Bayfront Park. They came together to raise awareness of the lack of consultation.

"Displacing people from their homes, whether they're in tents [or] encampments, is not how we care for our kin, and that's exactly who they are," Carrier told reporters.

George said the city has a responsibility to consult the Indigenous community to ask how it would manage encampments because Indigenous people are overrepresented in encampments and among people experiencing homelessness.

"We believe our brothers' and sisters' voices are not being heard in encampments," George said.

Lyndon George, also known as NaWalka Geeshy Meegwun — LongFeather, is the  Hamilton Community Legal Clinic's Indigenous justice coordinator. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

It's unclear how many Indigenous people are in Hamilton encampments but Davis said her team had been in touch with at least 178 in October.

George said that consultation should include Six Nations of the Grand River, elected and hereditary leadership, and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

This comes as the country reckons with its treatment of Indigenous people and the meaning of reconciliation.

"When the slogan 'Every Child Matters' comes out, that means those that are now adults and wearing an orange shirt is preformative ... stop all teardowns immediately."

The trio also called on the city to take down the Queen Victoria statue in Gore Park. The city has previously said it is reviewing all statues to determine what it will do with them, but during that process a Sir John A. Macdonald statue was toppled.

City says it engages with Indigenous people in encampments

City spokesperson Aisling Higgins said in an email the city "has consistently been engaging in outreach and consultation" with people in encampments to try and find them "more humane housing options."

"This consultation would have included Indigenous persons living in encampments," she wrote.

"Asking individuals to leave encampments is the last option the city exercises and only occurs after extensive efforts to connect individuals with available housing alternatives."

An Indigenous man died at an encampment near Bayfront Park on Monday, according to Hamilton Regional Indian Centre's executive director. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Higgins also said the city's housing services works with "local urban Indigenous leadership on Indigenous-led housing and homelessness programs" and tries to ensure that investment in housing "accounts for the over-representation of Indigenous peoples among those experiencing homelessness in Hamilton."

In response, Carrier said she's skeptical the city knows with certainty it has consulted Indigenous encampment residents.

"We know the city hasn't been very kind, and that's putting it very nicely, to Indigenous residents," she said, adding the city could reach out to the Friendship Centre, among other groups.

Davis said city staff and shelter workers are building a relationship with the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre, but said none of it is formalized and displacing people causes more harm than good.

"They're still perpetuating that hate, discrimination and racism against not only Indigenous people but anyone who is homeless," she said. "They're making it very clear they don't belong here, they're not a part of the community."

Indigenous man died in encampment on Monday

This also comes days after an Indigenous man died at the encampment near Bayfront Park on Monday.

Hamilton police said officers responded to reports of a man not breathing at 12:27 p.m. Monday and confirmed the man died.

It said in an email his death wasn't suspicious and wouldn't release details about him because it didn't have the family's consent.

Davis said her team knew him on a first-name basis and their goal is to learn more about him. They also plan to hold a vigil for him and others who have died while experiencing homelessness.

Eric Bouchard, 53, said he's been living on the streets for three years. He said the death of a fellow encampment resident on Monday is a harsh reminder of his circumstances. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Shawn Goodwin, who lives in the encampment near Bayfront, said the man stayed there for at least a few weeks.

Eric Bouchard, also staying in the encampment, said the man kept to himself.

Both Goodwin and Bouchard said it's a harsh reminder of their reality.

"It kind of spooks you, y'know? It makes you wonder how long you're going to last," Bouchard said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.

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