In university, after Christmas Break, things are usually slow to get up to speed. The same is not the case for MPPs! Despite the house not sitting, Donna Cansfield continues to work incredibly hard.
The second day back at work, Donna, her EA Rebecca and I went to visit 3 different native friendship centres; one in Fort Erie, one in Niagara on the Lake, and one in Hamilton.
Meeting with the women and men who work in these friendship centres was really eye-opening for me. There are many challenges the urban-native population faces that I had never even considered before. Since mainstream Canadian culture is my culture, I have never really appreciated how difficult it is for those Canadians who come from different cultural backgrounds to access help and resources.
For example, although there are mainstream women’s shelters, the Native Friendship Centre of Niagara on the Lake, through their initiative the Abby House, made the case that mainstream shelters are not serving urban Aboriginal women sufficiently. Through their work with the Abby House they have found that Aboriginal women are much more successful in their lives after leaving a shelter if they receive help in a culturally sensitive way.
Donna, as Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, was particularly interested in access to affordable housing. Affordable housing units are few and far between in all three regions, with waiting lists from 2 years to 10. In Hamilton, 20% of the Aboriginal population is homeless, and more still live well below the poverty line.
I really appreciated the opportunity to visit these centres. The experience forced me to change the way I think about the challenges that Aboriginal men and women face when living in an urban environment.