Oneida meeting puts ‘actions behind words’ in reconciling with local First Nations: Morgan

London, Ont., and Oneida Nation of the Thames leaders say they hope this week’s joint council meeting will bring about a stronger working relationship between the communities, and ensure Oneida voices are represented at London city hall.Wednesday’s meeting, set to get underway at 5 p.m. at Oneida Community Centre, marks the first time both councils have met for an official meeting. It’s also the first such meeting that London has held with a local First Nation.”This marks a significant milestone in our efforts to foster a meaningful relationship and a collaborative partnership with our neighbours,” said Chief Todd Cornelius of Oneida Nation of the Thames.”In regards to that, our meeting with Mayor Morgan and these councillors does not negate the federal Crown’s responsibilities to Oneida Nation of the Thames. Our nation-to-nation relationship remains paramount, and we continue to advocate for our rights and interests at the federal level.”Talks will focus on issues both communities face, including economic development, the environment, infrastructure and housing, said Cornelius, who wants Oneida prioritized in the city’s housing strategy.”We do have a lot of representation of our First Nations in the city and municipal area. We just want to make sure they’re well represented, and their voices are heard.”Oneida Nation of the Thames Chief Todd Cornelius said the meeting will see discussions around issues impacting both communities, such as economic development, the environment, housing and infrastructure. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)London Mayor Josh Morgan said the idea came out of a conversation with Cornelius about having both councils meet and speak to one another, adding that the meeting is the result of “many hours of discussion and hard work.”It’s not just a chance to discuss shared priorities, but an opportunity to set a foundation for a growing relationship, and a way to show that the city takes truth and reconciliation seriously, he said.”This is putting action behind words. This is starting a new way of our councils dialoguing together with each other,” Morgan said.”I don’t think there’ll be any transformative motions that will come out of this meeting, as it’s our first one. We’re going to have a great discussion. There’s going to be a lot of education and learning.”Other agenda items include the city providing municipal office space to the First Nation, and both communities lobbying the province to make such meetings easier under the Municipal Act, which governs London.Alizabeth George-Antone said work to organize the meeting has been ongoing since she became the city’s Indigenous community liaison advisor in May 2021, with delays caused by changes in leadership on both sides, and COVID-19.George-Antone said her role has been bridging the different gaps between the two communities, including how both councils do their business.”I’m hoping to see a better understanding on both sides,” she said, noting how London is reaching out to build relationships and work toward reconciliation. “We’re practically neighbours. We are a part of London’s economy. Everybody shops here. Our kids mostly go to school here,” she said. “A lot of our community members work and live in London.”According to Morgan, the proceedings will run differently than other council meetings, with the city’s five-minute-speech limit and other rules suspended to align with how Oneida meetings operate.He added that the meeting doesn’t preclude the city doing something similar with other local First Nations.”I have made aware the other chiefs about this endeavour, and I will continue to carve out the path that is most appropriate for us to grow our relationships, as individual partnerships, with each of those Nations.”

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