Indigenous issues ignored in Ontario election, Six Nations Chief says

Chief Ava Hill of Six Nations of the Grand River near Brantford says voters should consider the history of Ontario's political parties and Indigenous communities before casting their ballots on Thursday.

‘I’m just concerned that we don’t start taking steps backwards,’ Hill says of next government

Chief Ava Hill, front, appears with Deputy Chief Denise Stonefish, Regional Chief Isadore Day in this file photo from 2015. In an interview on Tuesday, Hill said Indigenous issues have not been a priority for candidates in the Ontario election. (CBC)

The progress made on Indigenous issues with the current Ontario government cannot slide backwards with a new premier, Chief Ava Hill says.

Hill is chief of Six Nations of the Grand River near Brantford and said her community continues to face issues that need to be addressed, including land issues along the Haldimand Tract — where they've been promised just under 10 kilometres (six miles) on either side of the Grand River from mouth to source — and funding for services.

"That's a constant struggle as well to get the funding that the government has a responsibility to provide," she said.

A change in the province's government after Thursday's election means she will be meeting with new people.

None of the party leaders met with Hill during the duration of the election, although she did receive a phone call from NDP Leader Andrea Horwath's team (Hill indicated she would meet privately with Horwath but did not want media to attend).

And she's worried they don't know the issues her community — and other Indigenous communities — continue to face.

"We have no choice but to work with whoever is in there, and in this era of reconciliation, after them hearing the truth that all those residential school survivors have the determination and courage to tell ... it's time for reconciliation and they're going to have to figure out how they want to do that. And so I'm hoping that we can have a good relationship with whoever the next premier [is]," she said.

Six Nations Election Council Chief Ava Hill said hopes whoever wins the Ontario election continues to move forward on Indigenous issues. (Jeff Green/CBC)

Indigenous issues haven't had a high priority

Nahnda Garlow, editor of the Two Row Times newspaper in Ohsweken, which is located in Six Nations of the Grand River, wrote an opinion piece last week after speaking with six local provincial candidates.

Garlow wrote she wasn't expecting the candidates in Brantford-Brant to be experts, "but I at least expected burgeoning politicians to have a baseline knowledge about my people."

They did not, Garlow wrote.

Hill said that surprised her because she has met many of the candidates, and she has talked about the issues with them.

"Overall, I'm very disappointed that Indigenous rights or Indigenous issues haven't had a high priority on any of the debates or any of the propaganda that's going on in the election anywhere," she said.

"You need to take the time to educate and be aware. And our politicians need to do it more so than anybody else. Because they're the ones that are going to be making decisions that are going to affect not only my people but everybody," she added.

"They need to reach out to us and include us."

'We've got younger people who are watching'

For voters, Hill said they should take time before they vote to learn about each party and their past relationship with Indigenous communities.

"I just want people to really think about — before they put their X on it — who do they think is going to the best benefit for, I guess not only my people, but all people in the province and who is going to work to establish relationships with everybody," she said.

Hill is not endorsing one candidate over another in this election, but she does hope to build a relationship with the next premier and government.

"I'm just concerned that we don't start taking steps backwards. We need to keep moving forward," she said.

"We've got younger people who are watching and are going to take over the leadership roles so I think we need to establish relationships."

She added there's an important phrase the next government needs to keep in mind Friday morning and moving forward: "Nothing about us without us."