The Aboriginal Working Committee for the City of Ottawa organized a “Listening Circles” event on January 29th, 2008. The event attracted over 180 participants that included representation from all of the Aboriginal service organizations in Ottawa and a wide range of non-Aboriginal organizations. (see Appendix A for the list of organizations that had representatives at the meeting)
There were four objectives for the session, all with the intent to strengthen the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal providers in Ottawa. The objectives were to:
- Continue to foster dialogue amongst Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal service providers;
- Review the issues that have been identified through various sources;
- Identify specific actions that the Aboriginal Working Committee could do as part of their work plan; and
- Identify specific actions that individual service providers can do to better work with the Aboriginal community.
B. Opening and Welcome
Marc Maracle, co-chair of the Aboriginal Working Committee, called the gathering together and invited Grandmother, Irene Lindsay, to open the meeting with a prayer. Marc then introduced Joan Riggs, Catalyst Research and Communications, as the day’s Facilitator.
The five partners each had an opportunity to provide welcoming thoughts.
Russell Mawby, representing the City of Ottawa (on behalf of Steve Kanellakos): Over 20,000 people have identified themselves as Aboriginal in this city, with Aboriginal youth making up half of that population. We know that the lives of Aboriginal people can be difficult in the city of Ottawa. We have established a good working relationship and we want to keep the momentum going by continuing to work together for the city of Ottawa. The input you provide today will inform our work for 2008.
Eileen Dooley, representing United Way Ottawa: United Way went through an environmental scan and identified a gap in addressing Aboriginal issues. This meeting is a way to gather information to see what the United Way should be doing, and how we can invest.
Diane Blouin-Bain, representing Champlain Local Health Integrated Network: Explained that the LHIN coordinates and funds health care services, and that she was the lead for Aboriginal issues.
Chief Vernon White, representing Ottawa Police Services: There is a tremendously fast growing Aboriginal population in this city, particularly the Inuit population. He expressed a sincere belief that the future relationship will be greater than our past relationship with the Aboriginal people.
Marc Maracle, representing the Urban Aboriginal Coalition: As the Executive Director for Gignul Non-Profit Housing, he is also a member of the Urban Aboriginal Coalition. The Coalition is comprised of a number of Aboriginal organizations that have come together to be deliberate on how to address Aboriginal issues. The question we need to ask is how can we more effectively serve the Aboriginal community of Ottawa? We are here today because we all recognize that there has been a failure on the part of our agencies and organizations to respond to the needs of the Aboriginal community. We want to promote a dialogue on how create a more effective response.
The Listening Circles was described as meal to be shared together. The table is set and the menu is developed. How we enjoy the meal together will be up to us together. Today, we want ideas and experiences to get to what we all want: results. We need to take the time to listen to one another; to have a real dialogue. We want to get a better sense of where we’re going and how we will get there, as we don’t want to go too fast. This is a critical component to building trust and confidence in each other. We’re all part of a journey and we’re here to listen to one another, and ultimately find out what we can do together.
As we build trust, we can work together.
C. The Road Traveled: How did we get here?
Sonia Luberti, City of Ottawa and Marc Maracle, Gignul Non-Profit Housing provided participants with an overview of how the Aboriginal Working Committee arrived at today’s meeting.
They started the presentation by situating us in the current reality. (see Appendix A) The 2006 Census revealed that 20,590 Aboriginal people live in the National Capital region. Aboriginal people now comprise two per cent of the city’s total population. Ottawa is home to one of the fastest growing urban, Aboriginal populations in Canada and the largest urban Inuit populations outside of the north. We know that these statistics underestimate the number.
The presentation highlighted the work that the Aboriginal Working Committee has been doing in the last 18 months:
- The predominant community issues/challenges/priorities identified were: Access to services; Safety; Health; Education; Housing; Cultural; Legal; funding and partnerships.
- Additional needs identified: services for seniors, disable/special needs members, childcare services, inclusion of two-spirited community members, more organized sports and recreational activities, coordination and organization of volunteers in the community.
D. Strengthening our Relationships
The Aboriginal Working Coalition identified that a key tool to support them to make change is the development of relationships. What they have also noticed is that it is hard to build relationships together and that it takes time for respect and trust to grow.
Four identical charts, such as the one below, were taped on walls within the meeting area. Participants were also to place post-it notes in one of the four quadrants to identify where organizations/agencies see themselves on the collaboration continuum with other organizations/agencies.
East – Communication: Getting to know each other.
South – An Established Relationship: Sharing information and expertise.
West – Joint Activities: and interagency programs.
North – Integrated Community Systems: Joint planning, resource sharing and decision-making.
Each of the four wall charts were covered with relationships that are just starting to long established relationships. It was clear that a great deal of activity is happening in Ottawa as organizations come together to ensure that Aboriginal people are receiving appropriate services.
Some key observations:
- All Aboriginal organizations have a wide range of working relationships with non-Aboriginal service providers and their Aboriginal colleagues.
- Many of the relationships that have been created are established and there is ongoing sharing of information and expertise. Groups often identified funders in this area.
- The education system, the police, the City, Family Services Ottawa and the Youth Service Bureau are very active throughout the circle in working to establish different relationships.
- There are significantly less activities that involve joint planning, resource sharing and decision-making with the primary example being the City of Ottawa Aboriginal Working Committee.
E. The Listening Circles
The discussions amongst participants began with the Elder, Jim Albert, offering a teaching on relationships. Whenever people come together in a group it is about relationships - everything is about relationships. We always talk a lot about being there for other people.
The Elder shared that he has beautiful teachings from many different places. Every teaching has layers to it, including relationships. When you’re given a teaching, you’re to understand and allow it to help you lead your life. At some point, you will have the opportunity to share that teaching with others; share what you understand from that teaching and will give the teaching according to how you understand it.
The first teaching is the circle – everyone is equal. We live in a world where equality is not the norm. To be equal means no less/no greater than anyone else. When we’re sitting around a circle we are all different, in that we all bring different things from our own journey. We honour that difference, but we also honour the equality.
We must understand that we are at the center of our own journey. We will meet many people throughout our journey, that will influence us, but it is still our journey. We have to start to talk and listen in a good way. The place we begin is with our relationship with ourselves. We must try to work hard at being who we are, and liking who we are. We have to take care of ourselves first, so we can better attend to the relationships of others. We can embrace respect, honesty and love, take care of ourselves, and take these things to our other relationships.
The groups then discussed three questions:
- How can we build stronger working relationships?
- What are some of the challenges we face when working together?
- What do you want to see changed?
Building Stronger Relationships
There were a number of consistent themes that were mentioned in this discussion:
- Increase Networking
- More events like these that break down the silos that we work in
- More community consultations
- More community gatherings
- Have decision-makers attend these forums/workshops, not just front line staff
- Create Partnerships and Connections
- More supports/resources to allow for partnerships
- Address issues collectively
- Connect services – inviting one another to agencies to understand each others issues
- Develop common goals and objectives
- Develop a better understanding of what is available among various agencies
- Create working partnerships rather than just funding
- Make bridges with community groups or individuals of interest (i.e. snowshoeing groups – mentorship program)
- Information Sharing
- Increase knowledge of organizations and services available, so we know what is needed (gaps in services, how to access information)
- Greater communication about community events (i.e. a website of all the events going on at all the agencies, or a LISTSERV)
- There is Community Resource Bulletin ? Organizations may not know about this as a source of sharing information
- Updated community resources and phone contacts
- Use technology – teleconference
- Respect Traditions and Diversity
- Understand where Aboriginal people are coming from (historical experiences)
- Use Aboriginal tools/teachings (e.g. resolving issues using the circle)
- Work to be culturally sensitive in our services
- Put aside pre-conceived notions and assumptions
- Respect diversity and remembering that Aboriginal groups are not homogenous
- Build Respect and Trust
- Understand, listen and build relationships of trust and respect, so people feel free to say what is important to them. It takes time.
- Learn more about each other’s backgrounds/beliefs by reaching out and understanding we can learn how to help each other better
- Don’t always have agreement but need to be respectful
- Make a commitment to engage Aboriginal community in long-term planning as opposed to one off projects
- Challenge racist assumptions
- Be clear about what we expect of one another
- Walk the Talk - Increased Funding
- Find creative ways to address organizations vying for same funding “pots”
- City support for core funding as well as employment and training
- Equal funding amongst agencies and between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organizations (fair salaries, equal among agencies)
- Establish upfront, realistic expectations (as a funder) right at the start
Challenges we face when working together
a) Time/resources to support collaboration
It is difficult to find the time and resources to support collaboration and many smaller community organizations have few or no paid staff. There is little core funding and organizations are fighting for the same pot of dollars. There is simply too much instability in the funding base for Aboriginal organizations and staff are often overwhelmed and stressed. There is a high staff turnover in organizations serving the Aboriginal population and most programs rely on unpaid overtime and volunteers to deliver services.
b) Cultural Awareness
The non-Aboriginal community is not aware of many aspects of Aboriginal culture and its diverse range of ideas and teachings. The Aboriginal community in Ottawa is not homogenous and there are different ideas, cultures and languages in Inuit, Métis and First Nations, which is further broken down into Mohawk, Cree etc. English or French is often not the first language for this community and this creates another barrier to working with non-Aboriginal organizations. There are also legacy issues for many Aboriginals including the trauma of residential schools and abuse.
c) Lack of knowledge about other organizations and their services
There is a lack of knowledge within the Aboriginal community about other organizations and their services. There is also little knowledge about the relevant staff who are delivering which services and getting the right person at another organization can also be challenging.
d) Individuals and organizations have a negative or racist understanding of the issues
Systemic racism by individuals and organizations have created a climate of mistrust between Aboriginals and the non-Aboriginal community. Stereotypes, racist assumptions, erroneous information and understanding/misunderstanding of the issues compound the problem.
e) Organizations feel they “own” certain issues instead of collaborating
Organizations are vying for the same funding pots and this leads to competition instead of collaboration. There is also a lack of communication between agencies, which sometimes results in a duplication of services. Different mandates from Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal agencies and even within the Aboriginal community make it sometimes difficult to work together.
f) Asking for help/reaching out to other organizations/cultures
There are challenges in knowing where to do or who to ask for help but there is also a reluctance to reach out beyond the Aboriginal community for assistance. Some of the reasons for this are perceived racism or a lack of understanding of the issues, language, and the cultural appropriateness of the service being provided.
g) Lack of capacity to build partnerships that are effective.
One of the major challenges to building effective partnerships is that non-Aboriginal groups tend to try to connect in their own traditional/formal ways; expecting Aboriginal groups to respond but their resources are spread too thin. One year project funding is also a barrier to building long-term relationships and the current systems and services are not designed to facilitate making new contacts or developing discussions or partnerships. There is also a less than positive history of working together and some in the Aboriginal community feel burned by past relationships with the non-Aboriginal community.
F. Moving Forward – Specific projects and initiatives
The group was given two opportunities to identify outcomes they want to see realized in the Ottawa community over the next five years. Seventy specific projects and initiatives were identified and in some cases individual organizations made connections with other organizations to immediately initiate some of the project ideas.
The final exercise asked for specific recommendations within five years.
Knowledge, Awareness, Understanding
- When the City makes decisions at any level of government and service delivery, they are able to make decisions that are fully inclusive of Aboriginal peoples.
- Staff at all agencies understand Aboriginal history, are knowledgeable of the services for Aboriginals that are available and have an increased ability to work with Aboriginal people in a more culturally sensitive manner.
- There is a positive relationship between child welfare and Aboriginal service providers, and Inuit, Métis and First Nations communities – a new beginning.
- There is increased knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal issues and needs within the broad Ottawa community. Increase Aboriginal Spirituality and Traditions as part of the Ottawa community.
- There is a level of mutual understanding and joint collaboration between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal agencies in addressing problems of Aboriginal youth, poverty, homelessness, substance abuse and life skills development.
- There is a greater awareness of the effects of racism, cultural imperialism, residential schools, cycles of violence, FASD on Aboriginal (especially homeless Aboriginal) community.
- We have reached a level of mutual understanding and sensitivity that ensures communications that breaks down the sense of isolation and enables long-term project planning.
- The Ottawa Aboriginal Task Force has the means and resources to build bridges and linkages between Aboriginal – non-Aboriginal agencies (employed people providing the service of researching resources and be a directory for greater community (i.e. available space, programs, grants, etc.).
- Aboriginal representation in mainstream organizations and government increases. Aboriginal people in are in leadership positions (paid) everywhere and there is an Aboriginal person elected to Ottawa City Council.
Community – A holistic health approach
- There are Aboriginal community centres across the city and more emphasis on connecting Elders and youth by exploring modern and traditional attitudes.
- There is a land base for Aboriginal use and a building designated for providing Aboriginal programs (traditional skills, ceremonies), a Healing Centre and green space.
As a result we will see:
- An increase in pride and less shame about being Aboriginal amongst the youth
- There is a reduction in Aboriginal poverty
- Healthy, welcoming neighbourhoods with increased employment opportunities
- Improved health outcomes
- Increased communication tool for families and new outreach strategies to better serve the hard to reach
- Fewer Aboriginal women and young people on the streets
- More affordable housing available to Aboriginals
- More trust between police and the Aboriginal community
- Higher Aboriginal achievement levels/graduation rates
Service Delivery Approach
There are active partnerships, increased collaboration and better relationships between service providers and the Aboriginal community. There is more communication, networking, commitment on shared issues and concerns between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal service providers.
Funders work together to support a focus on community (place based) outcomes, rather than individual program outcomes. There is an increase in stable and consistent funding for Aboriginal services that is allowing Aboriginal organizations to retain staff and to share and partner with other service providers. Agencies are working to find balance: emotional/physical/mental/spiritual and work with the Seven sacred teachings.
There are coalitions and partnerships across sectors – education, policing, early years centres, etc. that work to meet the needs of the Aboriginal Community.
The Health and Social Service sectors not only work together but operates at all levels in a seamless way including funding/funders.
An integrated network of services exists that allows for ease of access. To support the integrated network there is:
- A Best Practices manual for working with Aboriginal clients for non-Aboriginal service providers
- A central information service or booklet or website that houses contacts for Aboriginal services
- One major resource centre for all communities with satellite offices across the city enabling special services to that area
- A holistic approach is applied to planning (individual ? family ? community ? neighbourhood) not divided by age (0-16, seniors), disability, language, culture, etc.
- Community service providers are jointly working together to support all families and children in the community
- Mainstream organizations are incorporating Indigenous “ways of working” (i.e. more grass roots leadership, transformative methods of operating that reflect the needs, aspirations of the clients)
- All service providers have the courage to recognize their limitations and seek out their community partners to better serve people in our community.
- Develop a protocol for non-Aboriginal groups to learn how to feel a level of comfort when initiating contact with Aboriginal groups and individuals
- Provide education by Aboriginal people to non-Aboriginal people to provide better understanding of needs and situations and culture
Specific Services Needed
- Housing and Homelessness
- Create more sustainable housing
- A clearinghouse for service providers for the homeless
- Assistance in helping more people buy their own home
- More Aboriginal outreach workers and facilities for homeless youth, students, seniors and people with addictions
- There is more understanding, and support for restorative justice in Ottawa, a prostitution forum and a program to help sex trade workers transition to sustainable employment
- Partner with businesses to help find employment and initiate an employment project with an Aboriginal agency
- An Aboriginal child and family service for Ottawa
- More support for Aboriginal women in transition
- Increase support for offenders coming out of the provincial justice system
- Support projects with the Ottawa Police that build collaboration and cooperation
- More police officers recruited from the Aboriginal community
Health, Mental Health and Addictions
- Open an Aboriginal Treatment Centre and Healing Centre for Trauma (both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) in Ottawa
- Adequate support facilities and programs to deal with addictions, FASD and mental health issues
- More programs services that support healthy development so that we can break cycle of homelessness, addiction and abuse
- More Aboriginal doctors
- More collaboration between Ottawa Public Health and Aboriginal agencies around physical activity, nutrition and prevention of disease and injury
- A significant impact on the rate of obesity and diabetes (particularly in young mothers and Inuit children)
- Programs for men’s health
- Aboriginal perspectives throughout school curriculums
- There is a counsellor for Aboriginal youth and children and more programs and services for Aboriginal children in schools
- More Aboriginal teachers and books with native people in schools and schools that offer cultural awareness regarding Aboriginal history and practices
- Aboriginal literacy programs
- A curriculum developed for potential Elders
Arts and Culture
- A greater awareness in Ottawa of local Aboriginal culture, arts and heritage and strong connections between local Aboriginal artists (dancers, drummers, visual artists, writers, etc.) and local arts scene
- There are local and national public events featuring Aboriginal artists and a festival that features Aboriginal plays, films, music and visual arts
Marc Maracle acknowledged the attendance at this meeting was a true testament as to what the Aboriginal Working Committee was trying to accomplish. The work that was done during the day will move forward as the Aboriginal Working Committee reviews the input and develops a 2008/09 work plan.
The meeting closed with a prayer from the Elder Jim Albert and a closing song by Elaine Kicknosway and her son, Theland.
For more information or for copies of the appendices, please contact:
Aboriginal Working Committee
Phone: 613-580-2424, ext. 15888.