One question Regina Ward 7 Coun. Terina Shaw asked if homelessness and indigenous culture during a city council meeting has sparked a conversation about cultural misunderstandings.
The question arose during the discussion of a proposal aimed at stopping the homelessness of Regina.
Shaw’s question, posed to Sheila Wignes-Paton of the Phoenix Residential Society during last Wednesday’s City Council meeting, contained an anecdote about a native of the Regina Treaty / Status Indian Services (RT / SIS) with whom Shaw had spoken.
Shaw said she was told there are people in the indigenous culture who do not want to go home.
“Can you grab it and talk to it please? Because until I had heard it from her, I had no idea there were such people, and it does exist, and are you aware of that?” asked Shaw.
Wignes-Paton responded by saying: “I think maybe it’s the settler culture that imposes something on the original society, and some may choose not to have a home of their own. They are more comfortable living with different people. [and] moving around so I can see it happen. “
Wignes-Paton went on to say that the majority of the people Phoenix Residential works with in its home project are natives, and that everyone’s individual desires are respected.
Shaw then followed up.
“It just confirms what she said, there will always be people who are quote-unquoted homeless in the original culture because of what they prefer, through the mayor, is that correct?” asked Shaw.
“Yes, I would say it would be,” replied the Wignes-Patron.
Later in the meeting, Kale MacLellan presented his support for the proposal to stop homelessness. At the end of her presentation, she spoke directly with Councilor Shaw.
“No, there are not people who want to be homeless. Everyone wants a place to call home. Some people choose to travel, just like people who choose to spend their winters in Arizona or Florida,” MacLellan said.
“It’s a strange choice to frame homelessness as a choice. No one chooses to be homeless. No one chooses to be insecure.”
Section 6 gr. Daniel LeBlanc asked MacLellan if she happened to be a native and if she was familiar with the traditions of the indigenous peoples.
“I’m a native, so I’m probably the right person to ask that question, not another white lady,” MacLellan said.
In an interview with CBC, Councilman Shaw said that when she asked the question to Wignes-Patron, she did not “even really” look at the color of her skin.
“I asked her when she had first dealt with the dwelling,” Shaw said. “It seemed like she was some kind of expert in that, since she had been dealing with that kind of housing for many years.”
Shaw went on to say that there are people – not just indigenous people – who may not want housing.
“I’ve worked with people [from] all different types of backgrounds that do not always want a home, they want to be roamers, they want to be the gypsies of the world, “she said, using an ethnic label that is widely considered offensive and historically inaccurate,” and that’s okay too. “
Shaw said the question came from the bottom of her heart and that it was prompted by information from a native leader of the community.
“We were told that not everyone wants a home, that in the original culture there are people called Wanderers,” she said. “My question was, if this is true, which is supposedly true, then we need to find a place where we meet people according to their needs and where they want.”
She said she asked the question because she wanted it addressed in the council.
“We as councilors and mayors, we are not the experts, the people who are out there, the non-profit organizations, the people who lead this and do this work every single day, are the experts.”
Shaw said she did not mean any harm and feels no apology is needed.
“I just asked a question I wanted some clarification and some help to understand.”
Responses from lawyers
MacLellan, a community organizer and student, said in an interview with CBC that Shaw’s comments were “an interesting way to hit homelessness.”
“I am not aware of any teaching about people who choose to be homeless repeatedly,” she said. “It’s really disappointing to hear that rhetoric repeated by Coun. Shaw, because it’s only one person’s point of view she takes into account and not the countless other indigenous peoples who have told her that people need homes and people will have home now. “
MacLellan said such comments could hurt indigenous peoples experiencing homelessness.
“If people see this as not a problem, or that it’s people just choosing to be homeless, it makes it a lot harder for people who want to find safe housing,” she said. “I think it’s a very easy way for city officials to dismiss the blame from themselves.”
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) issued a statement on Wednesday asking Shaw to be educated in Canada’s true history.
“Without an honest understanding, reconciliation is impossible,” the statement read.
It said it was outrageous that an elected official in Treaty 4 territory perpetuated “such racist and uneducated views.”
“First Nations people have been beaten and crushed by this system over and over again, and it just continues with statements like this,” the statement continued. “Colonization is the reason why First Nations people live without homes.”
“No one chooses to be homeless.”
Initial Homelessness Attorney Shylo Stevenson presented at Wednesday’s City Council meeting and was present during Shaw’s question. In an interview with CBC, he said Shaw’s remarks shocked him.
“It blew my mind,” he said. “We were told we had to keep quiet because we were just blown away.”
Stevenson said he wished the question would have been directed at a native with cultural experience in the field.
“The person she asked was not the way to go.”
Stevenson said he has not been taught about people who do not want to have a home.
“Maybe she misinterpreted what was shared with her, I do not know, but we are nomadic people,” he said. “We travel around, we move around, but by no means have I ever met anyone who would like to be homeless.”
Stevenson said Shaw’s comments were frustrating as they could potentially add to the stigma surrounding native homelessness.
“It just gave something to it, and being recognized like that at a city council meeting is just another slap in the face to the original culture.”
grev. LeBlanc says internal talks are not for settlers to “weapons”
LeBlanc said in an interview with the CBC that while he does not claim to know everything about native knowledge, there are general misconceptions about the homeless. He said ideas that some people want to be homeless are “largely exaggerated.”
LeBlanc, who made the initial proposal, said that even though a few people feel that way, there are still hundreds who want housing and cannot get it.
He said he knew Shaw had heard this information from a “highly respected native leader of the city,” but that leader was not in the room during the council meeting.
“I would say that no matter what internal conversations the indigenous community may have, it is not up to settlers to use the knowledge that can be shared with them, or in some ways to arm that knowledge,” he said.
LeBlanc said the city has often made the common mistake of believing that reconciliation should be led by settlers.
“[People think] Reconciliation must always feel comfortable for settlers, and I also think that is a racist assumption. “
“I’m not saying Councilor Shaw is making them. I’m saying that I, and we as a city, have made them historically, and it’s time we made an unpleasant but necessary reconciliation.”