August 17, 2004

Report says racism in city must be addressed

Anti-racism educators in Northeastern Ontario have known for years there is a serious issue that must be addressed, but they have never had the data to prove it. Until now.

A three-city study in Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay and Timmins has concluded the issues are almost identical in each city and discrimination against native people is widespread.

"However, the majority of people said they like living in their particular city, so there is a positive base on which to move forward," said three-city project director Don Curry of North Bay.

The project, named Debwewin, the Ojibwe word for truth, involved the dissemination of questionnaires to the public, printing the questionnaire in local newspapers, follow-up interviews, cross-cultural training sessions in each community, media relations training for anti-racism practitioners, creation of a new web site at full of resources, and a print media monitoring project.

The nine-month project, funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage's Multiculturalism Program, was a partnership between Communitas Canada of North Bay and the Union of Ontario Indians, with advisory committees and facilitators coordinating the project in each city. Unity and Diversity Sault Ste. Marie led the project here.

"Now that we know we have serious issues to deal with we can encourage everyone to get involved in helping us move forward," said Max Iland, chair of Unity and Diversity Sault Ste. Marie.

"We have good suggestions from the participants and strong recommendations to help us make Sault Ste. Marie more inclusive," Iland said.

Curry, who read all the questionnaires and listened to all the taped interviews from each city, said he noted racist comments made by people who claimed not to be racist. He said he also read comments from native people who have heard and seen enough and don't even react to racism anymore.

"But then there are the fighters. The native people who speak out when they are being discriminated against and contact the store manager, the school board director, the hospital CEO and demand an apology. We heard from a lot of them and these are the people who will cause change to occur," he said.

"But we can't put the onus for reform on those who are facing discrimination. The project report has a number of recommendations that we will work on with community leaders and Unity and Diversity will spearhead the efforts to make Sault Ste. Marie a more accepting place to live."

Curry said stores and restaurants in all three cities were the locations where racial incidents occurred most, with schools second. "That tells us that while the education system definitely has to be a major part of the solution, right now it is also part of the problem."

"Virtually every aboriginal person I know has had issues in stores related to the status card," said Maurice Switzer, director of communications for the Union of Ontario Indians and a project leader. "This study documents what all of us have known for years. The general public is not very knowledgeable about treaty rights. Racism is an issue and we must work together as a community to create solutions."

Switzer's report on the print media monitoring component of the project will be made public next week and available on the project web site at The full 64-page Sault Ste. Marie report is now available for downloading on the site, as are the Timmins and North Bay reports.

In Sault Ste. Marie 239 people responded to the questionnaires and 13 people were interviewed. The questionnaire respondents were 61 per cent white, 28 per cent aboriginal and 11 per cent other racialized minorities.

Seventy per cent of the aboriginal questionnaire respondents said they observed incidents of discrimination based on race in Sault Ste. Marie in the past year, and 52% said it happened to them personally. Sixty-two per cent of racialized minority respondents saw it occur in the past year and 40 per cent said had personal experiences.

One aboriginal questionnaire respondent wrote, "The Sault has two faces and hides one very well."

For further information please contact Don Curry at 495-8887 (W) or 472-0340 (H).