June 7, 2017
For the first time, the City of Toronto is incorporating an Indigenous framework into designs for future Toronto parks. Calvin Brook, principal at the architecture/planning/urban design firm Brook McIlroy and a member of the Indigenous Place Making Council, said they have funding from Ontario150 for a project called re>Tkaronto – about developing an Indigenous presence, through structures and design, in Toronto.
The idea came through the Parks and Environment Committee by the chair Mary-Margaret McMahon. In a letter to the committee, McMahon listed the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and called for “an indigenous lens when looking at opportunities for place-making within our City parks.” The initiative follows a motion McMahon passed at city council last month titled “Implementing Indigenous Cultural Competency Training in the Toronto Public Service.”
The initiative falls on the heels of a series of emotional discussions at the Aboriginal Affairs Committee related to a Walk for Reconciliation that was proposed for September by a Vancouver organization called Reconciliation Canada. Toronto committee members were frustrated that the Reconciliation initiative wasn’t planned through the local community, yet was offered $500,000 from a special events reserve fund (the funding was never approved at city council). When it comes to funding for projects, there are no shortage of ideas within the committee. At the last meeting, for example, a presentation was given about a project called “Indian Residential School Survivors, Restoration of Identity” from Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre.
Advocacy for Indigenous leadership was not all lost at Tuesday’s Parks Committee. “This isn’t to say that I don’t think the motion is a good motion,” Councillor Mike Layton, co-chair of the Aboriginal Affairs Committee, said to the committee, “but with the rather public dialogue we’ve had over the last month about cultural appropriation – it’s not just about naming things.” Layton said he wants Indigenous advisory committee members to be the point of contact. “I think I would feel most comfortable if its genesis, and us, begin to sketch out what something like this might look like, and would come from them.”
Layton originally moved to refer the the issue to the Aboriginal Affairs Committee, but then said he was told one committee cannot move an item to another committee (it would have to be directed from city council). Instead, Layton moved that city staff “consult with the Aboriginal Affairs Committee with a view to developing a framework for applying Indigenous place-making principles to projects within the Parks, Forestry and Recreation 10-year Capital Plan and report back to the Parks and Environment Committee in October 2017.”
Councillor McMahon defended the decision to not bring it to the Aboriginal Affairs Committee. “It’s not meant to exclude anyone. Indigenous people have been involved in the crafting of the idea,” McMahon said in an interview after the committee. “I think it’s great when you have everyone thinking about an issue as important as this.” When asked what issues she thinks should start at the Aboriginal Affairs Committee, she said, “I’m chair of Parks and we’re doing a great thing.”
The response from Layton’s co-chair of the Aboriginal Affairs Committee was on a different note. Frances Sanderson said if McMahon is championing the issue, “more power to her.” Sanderson, reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, was happy to hear that the initiative for Indigenous place-making in Toronto parks was happening at all, even if the Aboriginal Affairs Committee was not the first stop. “Is it so bad that someone other than the Aboriginal Affairs is thinking about Aboriginal issues? I think it’s time that every committee include some thinking behind the issues that relate back to the Indigenous community.”
Janie Romoff, general manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation, said even though the Aboriginal Affairs Committee is not leading the initiative, she wants to make sure that everyone is on board. “We of course don’t want to do anything that isn’t supported completely by the Aboriginal community and the Aboriginal Affairs Committee is the representative piece within city council right now, so we will be consulting with them as the motion indicates with this presentation,” Romoff said, explaining feedback from the Aboriginal Affairs Committee will be part of their process to develop the initiative. “We certainly wouldn’t want to come forward to Parks and Environment [Committee] with something that doesn’t have the endorsement of the Aboriginal Affairs Committee.”
The presentation will be heard by the Aboriginal Affairs Committee at its September meeting, and will go to the Parks and Environment Committee in October.