Thunder Bay

Northern Ontario town eyes racial strife south of the border, sets new course

Hopes are high that a new committee will help a small town in northern Ontario address racial tensions and create a more welcoming community.

Council creates committee, invites Indigenous members to make community more inclusive

"Hopefully we become more educated about ourselves and about each other," Dryden Mayor Greg Wilson says of his aspirations for the new Working Circle committee. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Hopes are high that a new committee will help a small town in northern Ontario address racial tensions and create a more welcoming community.

The Working Circle is a subcommittee of Dryden's city council. It's eight members — three city councillors and the city manager along with four Indigenous residents of Dryden — will hold their first meeting next week.

"Especially in these times, as we can see north and south of the border all of the strife that's taking place in society, I think we can do some things in Dryden that can help propel Dryden forward in a positive way," Coun. Norm Bush said as the committee members were announced at council on Monday.

More than 1,200 of Dryden's approximately 8,000 residents are Indigenous, Bush told CBC News in an interview.

Dryden's new Working Circle is an opportunity to move forward on issues that can be polarizing, says committee member and Friendship Centre director, Cheryl Edwards. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Cheryl Edwards is one of the Working Circle's new members. As the executive director of the local Friendship Centre, she said she has seen "significant change" in Dryden in the last five years in the way the city approaches Indigenous issues.

"We have a very open-minded mayor and all of his council members, their focus and their energy is really on trying to have a better relationship … and that's really good to hear," she said.

Edwards, who is from a nearby First Nation and grew up in the region said the younger generation is helping move Dryden away from being a "segregated" community. She saw that most recently in the online discussion about changing the name of Colonization Avenue.

"It generated a lot of opinion and what was surprising to me and made me feel like the [discussion] was necessary and a benefit to the community is you could see that generational change has occurred," she said. "Even within families you'd see a grandchild disagreeing with her grandmother pointing out that her grandparent was saying racist things."

The potential street name change is one of the issues the Working Circle will discuss.

Dryden Mayor Greg Wilson told council on Monday that the Working Circle is a way for council to make "inclusive and transparent" decisions.

"Hopefully we become more educated about ourselves and about each other, and more respectful," he said.

Coun. Bush sees the committee as a vehicle for making Dryden a place "where everyone feels comfortable and is fully participating in community life" from the economy to social events and sports clubs.

Discrimination is toxic

Still, there are significant challenges to overcome in Dryden as well, Edwards said, pointing to the discrimination Indigenous people continue to face in accessing housing and employment.

"Discrimination is very toxic," she said. "Then they [non-Indigenous people] wonder why we don't want to work in that environment.

"We will run into a lot of issues where people will be very polarized," Edwards said of the work ahead for the committee. "I'm hoping to bring these issues to the table instead of ignoring them because we don't want to offend someone. 

"I'm glad this is happening and the city is making the effort."

 

 

 

now