London

'Historic' London and Oneida Nation meeting lays groundwork for future partnership

Councils from the City of London, Ont. and Oneida Nation of the Thames held their first official meeting in 150 years Wednesday evening, with both saying collaboration and open dialogue is key to working together toward true reconciliation. 

London Mayor to request changes to Municipal Act to allow for more meetings with First Nation

The councils of London, Ont., and Oneida Nation of the Thames had a special joint meeting on Wednesday at the First Nation's community centre. It marks the first time the two communities have met in 150 years.
The councils of London, Ont., and Oneida Nation of the Thames had a special joint meeting on Wednesday at the First Nation's community centre. It marks the first time the two communities have met in 150 years. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

Councils from the City of London, Ont. and Oneida Nation of the Thames held their first official meeting in 150 years Wednesday evening, with both saying collaboration and open dialogue is key to working together toward true reconciliation. 

The councillors discussed topics ranging from housing and infrastructure, economic growth, and shared environmental concerns. The two-hour meeting at Oneida Community Centre was a "historic moment" that brought a deep sense of pride and marked the start of a new chapter in their shared history, said Oneida's Chief Todd Cornelius. 

"It is remarkable that our councils are convening for the first time. The passage of 150 years highlights the occasion and the importance of building bridges between communities only kilometres apart," Cornelius said. 

"Reconciliation, however, is not a one way process but binds two parties in a relationship rooted in equality with reciprocal rights and duties. Addressing systematic injustices affecting Oneida require more than just talking, it means taking action to create positive changes for generations to come."

Mayor Josh Morgan said the meeting "isn't just about creating a historic moment, it's about forging a partnership and putting our minds together as one."

Morgan and his council took questions about how Oneida's more than 1,000 members who live in London fit in to the city's economic and housing priorities.

Oneida council wants to set up a permanent office in London to build a presence and learn more about the community's needs, said Coun. Misty Deleary. The request was well-received by councillors, who said they will explore possible short-term spaces for the First Nation to use, until federal and provincial funding allows for a longer-term plan. 

Oneida wants active voice in consultations

London Mayor Josh Morgan and Chief Todd Cornelius of the Oneida Nation of the Thames stand together holding a portrait of the Hiwatha belt of the Haudenosaunee, which represents peace among the Five Nations.
London Mayor Josh Morgan and Chief Todd Cornelius of the Oneida Nation of the Thames stand together holding a portrait of the Hiwatha belt of the Haudenosaunee, which represents peace among the Five Nations. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

It's concerning that Oneida members aren't consulted about infrastructure developments in surrounding areas, which cause disruptions to the First Nation, said Coun. Rosalind Antone, pointing to a coyote attack last week that seriously injured a 32-year-old. 

"We are allotted to this little bit of land and it's always concerning that I keep seeing development getting closer to our community," she said. "We have such a high coyote rate and that's a result of development in our surrounding communities in housing booming."

Antone said she would like to see municipalities consider their neighbours and the impact expansion has on them. 

The First Nation expressed that it wants a seat at the table for social and economic decisions impacting the Indigenous community, which city council said it would welcome.

"It should not be a difficult thing for us to ensure that there is consultation with Oneida Nation of Thames," said Morgan. "We can include things in our strategy that allow us to have that opportunity to partner and magnify both of our potential work to the greater good of the region." 

Mayor calls for less red tape in First Nation engagement 

A top priority for Morgan to continue the alliance with Oneida is to request changes to the Municipal Act, which makes no mention of municipalities meeting with First Nations.

"It's not that it can't be done, but there's a lot of hoops we have to jump through which are not necessarily respectful of the cultural practices and engagements that we need to have," he said. "It doesn't presume we would even meet and that's a problem."

The Act's provisions made it very difficult to organize the meeting with Oneida, Morgan said, adding that the First Nation is not bound by the Act, but the City of London is. He plans to write a letter to Ontario's Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to make it easier for such meetings to continue. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Isha Bhargava is a multiplatform reporter for CBC News and has worked for Ontario newsrooms in Toronto and London. She loves telling current affairs and human interest stories. You can reach her at isha.bhargava@cbc.ca