District working to improve Indigenous relations
District of Muskoka Logo. (Courtesy of District of Muskoka)
The District of Muskoka has revamped its strategy to work more closely with Indigenous Peoples.
The Strengthening Indigenous Municipal Relationships Strategy 2.0 was approved by District Council at its August meeting. According to Tina Kilbourne, team lead for the district’s Continuous Improvement Unit, the previous version of the strategy established both a formal land acknowledgement statement, as well as the Muskoka Area Indigenous Leadership Table.
Kilbourne says that through the table, the district consults on municipal matters with the Wahta Mohawks, Moose Deer Point, Chippewas of Rama, Georgina Island, Wasauksing, and Huron-Wendat First Nations, as well as the Moon River Métis Council. Kilbourne says the District does not have “active participation” from Chippewas of Beausoleil First Nation, but that they’re working on it.
Another shortfall the new strategy is meant to address is the lack of representation for Indigenous People who do not live on a reservation.
“Right now at the leadership table we have all the Nations at the table, but what we aren’t representing is the urban Indigenous or off-reserve Indigenous voice,” says Kilbourne. “We thought the best way to do that would be to establish a Muskoka Indigenous Alliance, have people from that attend our leadership table, and then we’d be capturing all the voices.”
Kilbourne says Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Scott Aitchison and MPP Norm Miller have also been invited to sit at the leadership table to “strengthen relationships at all levels of government” with First Nations. Since Indigenous elections often do not coincide with municipal, provincial, federal elections, or each other, she says work will need to be done to make sure the table continues beyond the term of its current membership.
Other parts of the revamped strategy include:
- Continuing Indigenous awareness training for district staff and partnered agencies.
- Working with local school boards to fill gaps in the curriculum regarding Indigenous matters.
- Creating a physical space for Indigenous ceremonies.
- Compiling a list of disrespectful or inappropriately named roads to be renamed. Colonization Road in Lake of Bays was renamed Old Sinclair Road in late 2020, and Kilbourne says District Road 38 through Wahta Mohawk First Nation will be the pilot project for future renamings.