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Talking openly about racism in Timmins
The Ontario Human Rights Commission is in back in Timmins this week.
After a fact-finding visit to the city and to the James Bay coast in March, the idea to offer some training on cultural sensitivity and human rights were recommended.
Those training sessions are now underway.
Officials say it's never happened before in Timmins, Indigenous and civic leaders meeting together in one room to talk openly about racism.
Ontario's Human Rights Commission is hosting free training sessions over three days, covering a variety of topics including preventing discrimination based on creed.
Henry Dacosta is the Deputy Chief of Timmins Police Service.
"We learned, in regards to an elder that was speaking, a lot of great information was shared. A lot of openness and how to improve, how to move things forward, and how to take things back to our organization." said Dacosta.
This training stems from a visit the Ontario Human Rights Commissioner, Renu Mandhane, made to Timmins several months ago when she stated racism against Indigenous people in Timmins appears to be pervasive and normalized. Now, she's noticing something different.
"There's a sort of hopefulness and a positivity amongst people we're talking to and amongst people who've never really talked to one another, and you can see those conversations happening." said Mandhane.
Jennifer Constant is a Mattagami First Nation councillor.
"Sometimes it does take some uncomfortable truths before change can be effective in areas." said Constant.
One highly visible change will be the raising of three flags at city hall on Thursday in honour of National Indigenous Peoples Day.
"We'll be raising the Mattagami First Nation flag, the NAN (Nishnawbe Aki Nation) flag and the Métis Nation of Ontario flag representing those groups that do have ties to the territory and work in partnership with us. So, I think you'll see some subtle changes over the coming months." said Timmins Mayor Steve Black.
Walter Naveau is a former chief of Mattagmi First Nation.
"I think that speaks volumes. It speaks for nationhood; it speaks for the people who come to Timmins, be it from James Bay, Mushkegowuk First Nation; Mattagami First Nation people. We can identify with something and say ‘hey, they're finally listening’." said Naveau.
Mayor Black adds that plans for the city's Indigenous Advisory Committee are well underway.
The terms of reference for the group are being outlined this week.