“Sometimes it’s the little things that matter most.”
So says Dryden’s Lisa Kooshet, one of the members of the city’s new Working Circle group that aims to make the city more welcoming to its Indigenous neighbours.
Kooshet, an Indigenous person who has lived in the city for more than 40 years, says a nod to inclusion can often be expressed in simple ways, such as the acknowledgment of aboriginal traditional lands at the start of municipal meetings.
One of the goals of the eight-member circle, which includes both Indigenous members and members of city council, is to try and interest area First Nation residents in municipally-sponsored activities., such as the local film festival and annual Max the Moose events.
“We want to touch base, to get them to come out to more city events and to feel welcome,” said Kooshet, a former band councillor with nearby Wabigoon Lake First Nation.
She added: “Sometimes I don’t think they pay attention to what’s happening in the city because they are focused on their own communities,” she added. “I can understand that.”
Kooshet said in her view, the type of racial tension that has sometimes come to a head in Thunder Bay and Kenora is not prevalent in Dryden.
She said she hopes the working circle’s mandate will become multicultural, to make the city more welcoming to new immigrants to Canada.
“The city wants to make a difference in some way,” she said. ”I’m excited about working with the circle.”
In a news release, the municipality said the working circle “is the first of its kind in Dryden, and will play a critical role in helping the city achieve its strategic-plan goals, including continuing to foster positive relationships with Indigenous peoples.”
Dryden Mayor Greg Wilson said the establishment of the circle is significant.
“Though listening and working together, we make positive change,” Dryden Mayor Greg Wilson said in the release. “I’m proud of the diversity in our city,” he added. “Everyone should be included.”
Earlier this year, a majority of city councillors voted against a resolution calling for the removal of Sen. Lynn Beyak for her earlier views on Indigenous residential schools, which some found to be outdated and racist in nature.
Most council members, including Wilson, contended it wasn’t the city’s place to meddle in Senate affairs. Wilson said that the city had officially embraced diversity before Beyak made headlines for her views.
Beyak, who is from Dryden and was twice suspended from the Senate, has since apologized for her earlier position regarding residential schools.