Report advocates for shift from “poverty reduction” to “cultivating prosperity” as the means to deliver social and economic benefits to Indigenous communities across the province.
Toronto, June 24, 2020 – The Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC) recently released a comprehensive report designed to reframe approaches to advancing the prosperity of urban Indigenous people.
The study, titled: Ganohonyohk (Giving Thanks): Understanding Prosperity from the Perspectives of Urban Indigenous Friendship Centre Communities in Ontario, is a community-led poverty reduction research report, documentary and partnership development tool.
The project is the result of three years of research led by the OFIFC alongside seven urban Indigenous Friendship Centre communities, including Ne-Chee Friendship Centre (Kenora); Ininew Friendship Centre (Cochrane); United Friendship Centre (Fort Frances); Council Fire Native Cultural Centre Inc. (Toronto); Can-Am Indian Friendship Centre (Windsor); Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre (Fort Erie); and N’Swakamok Native Friendship Centre (Sudbury). The findings are based on interviews, focus groups, participation in cultural events, and art creation.
Researchers engaged with community members to explore how they view a prosperous or wealthy life. The report concludes that approaches to Indigenous prosperity need to be culturally appropriate, community-specific and made with self-determined priorities. It also highlights the important role of Friendship Centres as community hubs in promoting this shift and restoring a prosperous way of life.
The project is a major step for Indigenous Friendship Centres as they work to refine their approach to providing supports and services in their communities. The new program emphasis aligns with The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action (7, 19, 20, and 92ii).
Urban Indigenous communities are a vulnerable population and are disproportionately more likely to experience poverty in their lifetime. Almost a third (29%) of urban Indigenous families and over half (53%) of urban Indigenous single people live below the poverty line.
“We asked our communities, what makes us prosperous? What do we need to take care of each other? What do we need to have a good life?”, says OFIFC Executive Director, Sylvia Maracle. “We are making the transition from the labels of ‘vulnerable, poor, at risk, in need’ – our communities are tired of talking about poverty. We want to look at poverty and poverty reduction from a place of community-driven strength, rather than a place of deficit.”
Prosperity is based on the Haudenosaunee practice of Ganohonyohk which refers to an underlying attitude of first remembering to give thanks and appreciate life. The report identifies four key themes that can help Indigenous communities cultivate prosperity and support this shift in program and service delivery: restoration of identity, a sense of belonging, Indigenous ways of knowing and everyday good living.
Policies adopted by the governments of Ontario and Canada, and the United Nations, prioritize support for urban Indigenous communities in their pursuit of prosperity. However, the report indicates that mainstream metrics are at odds with Indigenous self-determination. It advocates instead for community members to assess their overall quality of life through Indigenous value systems, oral tradition, and cultural knowledge.
In contemporary urban contexts, Indigenous communities require resources to offer programs and services to a growing demographic. Over 80% of Indigenous people in Ontario live off-reserve with 62% in urban areas, according to Statistics Canada. Governments and supporters can fund the structures these communities already have in place, supporting self-determination and prosperity, in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). As well, the potential cost savings associated with investments into wholistic, culture-based practices are exponential.
“We need to look beyond the short-term towards a better understanding of how investments are made. They need to be more closely tied to Indigenous solutions that are decided by the communities and not imposed by others,” says Maracle.
The partnership development tool that accompanies this report can aid governments, non-profit organizations, academia and others in self-assessing their accountability to urban Indigenous prosperity, as defined by each community.
The Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres
The Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC) represents the collective interests of 29 Friendship Centres in cities and towns across the province. Friendship Centres are places for community members and Indigenous people living in urban spaces to gather, connect with one another and receive culturally based services. Friendship Centres improve the lives of urban Indigenous people by supporting self-determined activities which encourage equal access to, and participation in, Canadian society while respecting Indigenous cultural distinctiveness.
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