Government Commitments

Urban Commitments to Reconciliation

Local group asks for new seat on Hamilton council to represent Indigenous community

February 21, 2024

The Indigenous-specific council seat dovetails with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, says Lyndon George

Lyndon George, co-chair of Circle of Beads, says Indigenous residents of Hamilton are directly affected by city council decisions.Cathie Coward Hamilton Spectator file photo

NationTalk: The Hamilton Spectator – A local Indigenous consultation group is asking Hamilton city officials to pursue a new council seat to represent their community members.

Turning the request into reality would require changes to provincial legislation, but that shouldn’t be a deterrent, says Lyndon George, co-chair of Circle of Beads. “If you’re committed to change, and you’re committed to reconciliation, you’re going to make it happen.”

Last week, in a presentation at city hall, George and other members of Circle of Beads asked council to study and see through the implementation of an Indigenous-specific seat. “We have input and we want you, along with all other sectors, to come to us and tell us you want our help because you can’t do reconciliation on your own,” said co-chair Audrey Davis.

Audrey Davis, executive director of the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre, says city council needs input from Indigenous residents as it pursues reconciliation.John Rennison Hamilton Spectator file photo

Circle of Beads formed after a police officer stomped on the head of Patrick Tomchuk during a violent arrest at a Hamilton gas station in 2022.

The goal was to respond as a group to incidents of racism and systemic barriers in such sectors as policing, courts, education and health care, rather than in agency silos, said Davis, executive director of the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre.

The Indigenous-specific council seat dovetails with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) calls to action and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said George, who’s Indigenous justice co-ordinator at the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic.

As well, the city’s Urban Indigenous Strategy, which council approved in 2019, is a foundation upon which to take “reconcili-action” through such concrete measures. “Many of the decisions that are made and are directly related to the safety of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people located in the Greater Hamilton Area are made by the elected officials who are seated in this room.” 

According to the 2021 census, 15,420 people in the Hamilton metropolitan area identified as Indigenous, but George said the population is higher since many choose not to flag their identity due to discrimination.

A special council seat could lead to better communication between the city and Indigenous residents, and nearby Six Nations, says Rick Monture, an associate professor in McMaster’s Indigenous studies program.

“I think Hamilton has an opportunity here to step up those relationships,” he told The Spectator.

There’s a lack of understanding of Indigenous people and perpetuation of stereotypes in larger urban settings like Hamilton, including on campus at McMaster, Monture said. “I think a strong voice in city council could help rectify that, at least at that level, to challenge and address some of those things.”

An Indigenous-specific municipal council seat doesn’t exist anywhere in Canada, and creating one would involve changes to provincial legislation that deals with municipal governance and elections, agreed Andrew Sancton, a Western University professor emeritus.

“It’s clearly not something that the council could do by itself,” said Sancton, whose field of study focuses on urban politics and local governance.

If realized, an Indigenous seat wouldn’t be a “one-off for Hamilton,” he suggested, noting Ontario municipalities with large Indigenous populations like Thunder Bay also would be logical candidates.

There’s interest on council to learn more, but staff have to study the question, Mayor Andrea Horwath told The Spectator. “I don’t know what the implications are, even if it’s something that’s possible, so I think the best thing to do is get all of that information before we make any kind of decisions on that.”

The city should support Indigenous residents in that line of inquiry with the province, Coun. Cameron Kroetsch said. “This is what the community is asking for. I think council has to do its best to respond to the community’s direct request and needs.”

Teviah Moro

 is a reporter and editor with The Hamilton Spectator who specializes in municipal politics, housing and homelessness. Reach him at Related