Toronto’s first Indigenous Health Strategy

A presentation about Toronto’s first Indigenous Health Strategy titled ‘A Reclamation of Well Being: Visioning a Thriving and Healthy Urban Indigenous Community’ was given to the Aboriginal Affairs Committee on Tuesday, following presentation to Board of Health in May. Toronto Public Health equity specialist Leila Monib and Sam Kloetstra, youth coordinator for the Toronto Indigenous Health Advisory Circle, delivered the presentation.

The strategy was met with support at the presentation – but there were also questions around why there was not more consultation in developing it.

“I think that having an Advisory Circle is really important, but I think that’s extremely different than community engagement,” said committee member Tera Beaulieu, president of the Toronto and York Region Métis Council, during the meeting. “From my perspective, I’ve heard so much about this and our council has tried to reach out to the Health Strategy a number of times and has been unsuccessful in connecting and getting information and participating. It feels like there’s not an opportunity to do so,” Beaulieu said, acknowledging that while there were Métis individuals involved in developing the strategy, they do not necessarily represent the community the way an organization or council would.

Representation

Steve Teekens, executive director of the Native Men’s Residence, another committee member, began with kudos for the speakers. “Sam, great presentation. Wow, you’ve got skills,” he said to Kloetstra, who just turned 20. Teekens went on to say he was concerned that his organization hadn’t been consulted during the process. “It could be easily argued that it’s our homeless population that use up the largest percentage of hospital and emergency room services, so why is it that there’s no active engagement with either homeless people with lived experience or people with knowledge around homelessness?”

Monib said the work they did with the Native Canadian Centre in 2014 involved engagement with subpopulations and street-involved and homeless youth, and said the feedback would be useful as they move forward in developing the plan for implementation. Sarah Midanik, executive director of the Native Women’s Resource Centre and committee member, encouraged everyone to read the full report. “In the data itself, homelessness did come up… this is a more comprehensive report of what was pulled out of the survey, so I think it’s just very important to keep in mind this is a top-level overview.”

The Process

The process involved the establishment of the Toronto Indigenous Health Advisory Circle, so indigenous people could be involved in policy making. Kloetstra said that having an Advisory Circle allowed for an approach more closely linked to an indigenous governance model. “…what it really is, is it’s a more holistic view and approach towards health and well-being in the city, because it recalls information accountability and transparency that would have been, prior to colonization, and how that would look into post-colonization in an indigenous community… in a Western model, there’s a lot of room for silos.”

Co-Chair Councillor Mike Layton reminded the committee that the Aboriginal Affairs Committee reports to Executive Committee, and if they referred the item there, public deputations could be heard on a “rather significant scale,” including bringing the presentation itself. “We would be very interested,” Kloetstra said.

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