Background Content

Urban Commitments to Reconciliation

Midland and Penetanguishene commit to strengthening relationships with First Nations, Métis communities

January 4, 2023

Recent steps made by both town councils have Indigenous and Métis residents hopeful

NationTalk: Patricia Monague is hopeful. Hopeful that one day all those who reside in north Simcoe, including the First Nations and Métis communities, will feel like they belong.

Monague’s hope grew Nov. 16, when she participated in Midland’s inaugural council meeting. She was invited by Mayor Bill Gordon to perform a smudging ceremony prior to the swearing in of the new council. “Because the mayor has extended his spiritual being to include his First Nation, I feel like there is hope now,” she said.

The 58-year-old grandmother from Beausoleil First Nation said bigotry and racism exist in Midland and Penetanguishene and addressing the topic and having support from both councils could lead to a better future. “We all survived COVID-19. We all suffered losses. Now it’s time for everyone to get over their preconceptions about their First Nation people,” she said.

The discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a residential school site in Kamloops in 2021 prompted many non-Indigenous residents to question what they know about our country’s history and to be willing to listen and learn, including those on council.

“The mayor is role modelling what it is to be a person willing to make positive steps into the future in regard to building political bridges and social bridges between the two communities,” said Monague, who serves as the heritage and cultural co-ordinator on Beausoleil First Nation.

The relationship between Midland and Beausoleil First Nation has improved in recent years. A relationship agreement to promote open, ongoing discussions was signed in 2018. The town reads a land acknowledgment before council meetings and the two communities are partners in a local Cultural Alliance. 

However, there’s work to be done.

“Bridging the deep divide that our colonial past has created starts with inclusion, listening and educating ourselves on the rich culture and heritage that existed here long before we came ashore to discover these ‘new’ lands,” Gordon said.

He said he’s proud residents formed a council that consists of members with Indigenous roots, both First Nation and Métis, and he plans to keep the momentum going by renewing the working relationship agreement with Beausoleil First Nation, forming an Indigenous relations committee and working more closely with the Georgian Bay Métis Council.

“I plan on strengthening our relationships with our entire community this term, and that certainly includes our First Nation and Métis residents,” Gordon said.

Penetanguishene Mayor Doug Rawson is also focused on engagement.

On Nov. 23, at the municipality’s inaugural council meeting, a land acknowledgment was read, which touched on the fact Penetaguishene has been home to Indigenous and Métis people for thousands of years. The Chigamik drum circle performed and Greg Garratt, president of the Georgian Bay Métis Council, was provided an opportunity to speak.

“Our inaugural meeting was a celebration of who comprises our community — Francophone, First Nations and Métis,” Rawson said. “We tried to be inclusive. That is the theme and spirit for this term.”

Garratt sees the invite as a “historic step forward.” “It was the first time ever that the president of our council was invited to local inaugurations,” Garratt said. “It is indicative of the fact (municipalities) are starting to understand the culture that lies in this area.”

Penetanguishene is the epicentre of the Georgian Bay Historic Métis Community — the largest of the seven federally recognized historic Métis communities in the province. Approximately 5,000 Métis — 25 per cent of Ontario’s Métis population — live in the region.

“The fact that municipalities are willing to know who we are and willing to engage with us is a great first step,” Garratt said. “From here, we need to keep building this relationship.”

Andrew Mendler is a reporter at The Midland Mirror. He writes about a wide range of issues in Midland, Penetanguishene, Tiny and Tay. You can reach him at . Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook