By Tonaya Marr
Many issues in the Regina civic election – including issues facing aboriginal people in Regina – have played second fiddle to the stadium debate. However, despite the fact that there were no declared First Nations candidates running in the election, the city’s aboriginal population was not ignored by candidates.
But what are the issues that Regina’s aboriginal population faces?
Regina/Treaty Status Indian Services Inc. office administrator, Melissa Lerat, explained the issues Regina’s aboriginal people are dealing with entering the election, which in many ways echo the platform ideas of the mayoral candidates.
“Housing is a big issue,” said Lerat. “There isn’t a lot of affordable housing, especially for low-income or mid-income people, and that’s a lot of what we see that comes through our doors. People just don’t have a place to live that they can afford consistently.”
Lerat also outlined a lack of social programs, homelessness and having to decide between paying rent or bills as other issues that the city’s aboriginal population deal with.
RTSISI is a non-profit, non-political organization that provides youth and adult programs for aboriginal people in Regina, as well as people of all nationalities who need their services. Their programming includes employment assistance, family support, child and youth programs and an employment centre to help people find work.
Thirty-two-year old Jason Cyr is a gas station attendant at Sauteaux Junction, just west of Regina. Though Cyr did not vote in the 2012 election, he suggested ways the city’s future council could improve conditions for the city’s aboriginal population.
“More job creation and more programs for aboriginal people to find work and keep work,” said Cyr. “There’s a lot of work out there that can be found but not a lot of them are sticking with it and staying in the job force.”
Cyr listed unemployment, poverty and discrimination as other problems faced by Regina’s first nations population.
Before the election, all nine mayoral candidates addressed issues facing Regina’s aboriginal people. The issue mentioned most frequently was the need to increase access to affordable housing.
Newly elected mayor Michael Fougere ran with affordable housing as a key element of his platform.
“There’s no question that my campaign is focusing a lot around affordable housing as a way to stabilize families and most of those critical issues.” said Fougere.
Mayoral candidate Liz Brass said she spoke with Silver Sage Housing Corporation before the election began and learned of the city’s dire need for affordable housing.
“The city doesn’t have the funding process in place yet to give Silver Sage the funding, so that’s holding up a lot of housing that’s really needed,” said Brass. “I would say that’s one of the most urgent issues right now.”
Mecka Okochi described his intention to help Regina’s aboriginal people “secure and retain safe, decent housing and accommodation.”
For candidate Tim Seikawitch, the question of what counts as affordable housing is important.
“We know (other candidates) they promise affordable housing, but they’ve never said in their mind how much that is every month,” said Siekawitch.
Siekawitch said he considers affordable housing to be in the $300 to $400 range.
Jim Elliott explained that fixing up existing housing in Regina could help improve conditions for aboriginal people.
“Whether that’s expanding and building more, whether that’s going after landlords to maintain properties that they currently have,” said Elliott.
Several candidates proposed changes that would begin in city hall, including creating positions for aboriginal people in city government, establishing an aboriginal advisory council for the mayor and providing career training to help aboriginal people to find municipal jobs.
Other issues outlined by candidates include financing entrepreneurs, apologizing to the aboriginal community and increasing education of both aboriginal and non-aboriginal people to improve understanding and tolerance.
“We are all one people,” said Marian Donnelly, who finished right behind Fougere in the mayoral race. “There’s not this big divide.”