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 Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay 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. Madeline Chokomolin, a board member with the Timmins Native Friendship Centre, coordinated the project here and recruited an advisory committee.

"This project gave us the information required to move forward," said Lyndsay Mollins Keone, a member of the Timmins advisory committee.

"We can now engage more people and organizations in the community to help us move forward and make Timmins an even better place to live," Mollins Keone 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 hopefully the committee we have established in Timmins will expand and spearhead the efforts to make Timmins 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 65-page Timmins report is now available for downloading on the site, as are the Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay reports.

In Timmins 89 people responded to the questionnaires and 10 people were interviewed. The questionnaire respondents were 56 per cent white, 39 per cent aboriginal and two per cent black. Some did not answer that question.

Eighty-six per cent of all racialized minorities, including 84 per cent of the aboriginal respondents, said they observed incidents of discrimination based on race in Timmins in the past year, and 63% had personal experiences.

One aboriginal questionnaire respondent wrote, "It happens once a week or every two weeks. I'd be walking with my girlfriend and people driving by or stopped at a light would bang the side of their car and say something. I get that a lot. It doesn't surprise me because I hear it so often."

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