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Native community makes 'great strides'

But organizers of National Aboriginal Day also worry there is a lot of racism

Sharon Boase
Hamilton Spectator
(Jun 21, 2006)

[SISIS note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only, as an example of how mainstream media treats indigenous resistance to genocide. Mainstream media often presents biased and distorted information, lacking pertinent facts and/or context. Inclusion of this article on our site should not be considered an endorsement by SISIS.]

With centuries of racism and injustice to be overcome, members of Hamilton's aboriginal community know when it's time to take a breather, take stock and to celebrate the victories.

Today is National Aboriginal Day and First Nations, Inuit and Metis people across Canada are gathering to celebrate their culture and traditions.

Steeltown's festivities start with a sunrise ceremony at City Hall. Activities will include a barbecue lunch, an eagle feather presentation plus traditional dancing and drumming.

"I think that things are positive, more so than in the past," said Cindy Sue McCormack, a social planner and the chair of the city's Committee Against Racism (CAR). "The aboriginal community in Hamilton is making great strides in bridging the gap with the mainstream. We're more and more involved now than, say, 10 years ago, and our voices are being heard."

Yet the reality of racism has been painfully brought home by the Caledonia land dispute, said McCormack. CAR members have learned of racist taunts in schools and recreation centres. One said the anti-native backlash is worse than the anti-Muslim backlash following 9/11.

Many aboriginal high-school students have been singled out with racist taunts, said Melissa Cabezas, aboriginal youth adviser at Cathedral Secondary School. Few young people have a thorough knowledge of the history or politics of events, said Cabezas, and that's true of young aboriginals and the Caledonia land conflict. "When they hear the negative or racist comments, they're reacting in a way where they're showing how proud they are of their culture. They've handled themselves in a good way."

Aboriginal students at Cathedral and at Sir John A. Macdonald schools are celebrating news that an aboriginal stay-in-school initiative called Nya:weh will be funded by Hamilton's Catholic and public school boards in September to the tune of $120,000.

Nya:weh, which means thank you in Mohawk, is an acronym for Native Youth Advancement with Education Hamilton, which started three years ago. It connects aboriginal students with an aboriginal youth adviser who oversees their introduction to native culture and who advocates for them.

"Some may need to get that cultural component, others need tangibles, like the support of the youth adviser with conflicts, tutoring, bus tickets or breakfast or lunch everyday," said Taunya Laslo, chair of Hamilton Executive Directors Aboriginal Coalition (HEDAC), whose members advise on Nya:weh's development. HEDAC members have also been advising city hall on aboriginal issues since 2003.

Meanwhile, an aboriginal seniors complex is set to open in August. It will offer geared-to-income rent for 23 currently homeless aboriginals aged 55 and over. "In the aboriginal community, we have programs for youth but we don't have anything for our seniors," said Janice Lewis, executive director of Urban Native Homes Inc.

Elize Hartley, co-chair of HEDAC, an elder with Metis Women's Circle and Nya:weh, said single people on the street are "worse off than any others."

Aboriginals face "a systemic racism" going back centuries. "That is perpetuated because so many of our people have lost their culture and traditions, totally apart from alcoholism and drug addiction," said Hartley. "When you've lost your culture and your traditions, you've lost everything. That's why we're working so hard in our community to bring it back, especially with the young."

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