How an Indigenous voice at the next London City Council could make a difference

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First Nations scholars and advocates say if an Indigenous voice were elected to London City Council, it would greatly help the city’s 11,000 Indigenous people, and it would also help build a more inclusive City Hall by adding diversity. to a predominantly white council, some criticize as racially unrepresentative of the city as a whole.

Danalynn Williams, 55, is running for Ward 14 councilor against Steve Hillier and Sarah Lehman. Unlike his opponents, Williams is native. She hopes to leverage her cultural identity as a way to distinguish herself from other suitors.

“It’s not a diverse city council and I would love to see that diversity there,” she said. “I’m very proud to say I’m a First Nation. I think it’s time we started speaking up for ourselves and standing up and saying ‘we are here’ and ‘we are able’ and able to take on the roles that we once had were spoken.”

Almost 11,000 people declared their identity as Indigenous in the City of London in the 2021 census, according to Statistics Canada. This represents an 11% growth in the number of people who reported their cultural identity as Indigenous in the 2016 census and matches the rate of population growth for the city as a whole.

Racialized voices on council ‘missing’, says historian

City of London officials could not confirm whether the city had ever elected an Indigenous councilor in its history. Spokeswoman Jo Ann Johnston said racial and cultural information is not collected by City Hall in relation to new council members and therefore there is no historical record.

Meet the woman seeking to bring an Indigenous voice to council

Danalynn Williams, 55, is running for City Council in a bid to give London’s rapidly growing indigenous population a stronger political voice.

Williams believes that if elected, she would be the city’s first-ever Indigenous councillor. Indigenous scholars and advocates said it would be a symbolic change for a group of people who are often socio-economically and politically marginalized.

Having that racialized voice, that Indigenous voice, is something that’s lacking.– Cody Groat, Associate Professor of History and Indigenous Studies

“It would be about offering a different perspective,” said Cody Groat, an associate professor of history and Indigenous studies at Western University who lives in London, Ont., and is also a member of the Band of Six. Nations of the Grand River.

“I think just having that extra voice at the table, having that racialized voice, that Indigenous voice is something that’s been lacking.”

Cody Groat teaches in the Department of History and Native Studies at Western University. (Submitted by Cody Groat)

Groat said while an Indigenous voice among a 14-member city council doesn’t seem like much, it could greatly help law enforcement interact with the city’s Indigenous people, a population traditionally overrepresented in the justice system.

“Having a fresh Indigenous perspective on this is something that could definitely be beneficial,” he said, noting that the biggest issue for a candidate seeking to represent Indigenous voices in the city is the fact that, in As an electoral bloc, Indigenous peoples have traditionally had low turnout and few studies can explain why.

“It’s really hard to say. Historically, there have been barriers imposed that prevented Indigenous people from participating in the electoral system, many of them were obviously formed decades ago, but we even look at elected systems in reserve communities and the electoral participation in these communities. instances are also very weak.”

Could help politically marginalized people be more connected

Elizabeth Frances Moore, an Anishnaabe woman who is also an Indigenous lawyer living in London, said just having an Indigenous adviser would help a lot of Indigenous people feel more connected to local government because, for once, they would have someone who understood their cultural point of view. of sight.

Frances Elizabeth Moore is an Anishinaabe woman from the Timiskaming First Nation who lives in London, Ontario. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

“We look at things from a collective perspective and unfortunately western society is largely instant gratification that moves quickly on the timeline and that doesn’t always mean the right people are being consulted in the right way and it doesn’t always mean the best decisions are made.”

“[Having an Indigenous person on council] would give some accessibility. It’s all about building relationships, so provided that person is already building relationships with the community, that would definitely be helpful.”

It’s also a double-edged sword, Moore noted, pointing out that while an Indigenous voice would give access to the council to an underrepresented group, it would also paint a political eye behind the person’s back, leaving them vulnerable. to extremists. and what Moore called “racial tropes”.

“‘Angry Native Woman’ is one of those tropes and I’ve experienced it in my life, where talking about an issue and being passionate about something has that pushback where you’re labeled as angry or aggressive and you’re just fighting for your community and fairness and basic human rights.”

That’s why Moore thinks it would take an extremely strong person with a strong network of peer support to endure being at the center of the culture clash that accompanies trying to represent Indigenous interests in a political system. western.

“I think anyone coming into the world would have to walk through two worlds and would definitely need a support network of community members and elders,” she said.

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