Too White For S’toon

City hall has one councillor of colour. We need to do better.

City | by Evan Radford

This story is about democracy, and numbers that don’t add up like they should.

In Saskatoon — the city of Neil Stonechild, Starlight Tours and the freezing deaths of Aboriginal men — all but one of nine city councillors (one ward is vacant) are white. That’s obviously not ideal. The city’s lone Indigenous councillor is Zach Jeffries of ward 10.

As for visible minorities? Zero seats, despite making up more than 11 per cent of the population.

At least four of Saskatoon’s nine councillors are women which — though short of what you’d expect based on the fact more than half the city (50.6%) is female — is better than some places. (Looking at you and your measly two female councillors out of 10, Regina).

But all in all, there’s room to do better.

The data is based on National Household Survey results from 2011 for Saskatoon’s census metropolitan area (CMA). Stats Canada will release results from the 2016 census (which reinstated the long-form) next year.

When contacted by Planet S, Jeffries said his Indigenous identity is an important part of his life, but he said he’s not prepared to make public comments about it as a member of Saskatoon’s city council.

What do municipal politics mean for Aboriginals?

“I would say that city council doesn’t take [Indigenous people] into account in a meaningful way, or ask to partner with Indigenous people in a meaningful way, around issues that impact Indigenous peoples’ lives,” says Marilyn Poitras, a University of Saskatchewan law professor who identifies as Michif and has worked on and taught Indigenous governance issues, Aboriginal law, and self-government agreements in her career.

Poitras points to police carding (also known as street checks) as one such issue that impacts Saskatoon Aboriginals.

Carding is when police stop and detain Aboriginal people in public spaces without cause, while asking to see their ID.

“That’s something that I think, if you had the Saskatoon tribal council, you had some community organization folks and you had the city sit down with the police chief, and sit down and say, ‘Okay, what are the actual issues here, and how do we deal with them,’ I think a resolution could be found,” says Poitras.

Poitras notes that despite efforts to bring Indigenous people onto the board of police commissioners and other city committees and groups, that hardly scratches the surface.

“Power and voice, and just a minority representative — those are not the same thing,” she says.

Poitras has similar concerns about Aboriginal representation on city council. “They’re a population whose numbers alone demand it,” she says.

Poitras adds that young, Aboriginal Saskatonians don’t participate in municipal politics and affairs. That’s problematic—especially when you look at Statistics Canada data.

Fifty-four per cent of Aboriginal people in Saskatchewan are younger than 25, according to the 2011 National Household Survey. Of the province’s non-Aboriginal population, 30 per cent are younger than 25.

The median age for First Nations people living off-reserve is 20.2, and it’s 28 for Métis people. The median age of non-Aboriginal people? A hair short of 41.

Looking to the future — and the potential for having more Aboriginals involved in municipal politics — Poitras says she’s optimistic.

“I think we’re closer than we think,” she says. “Indigenous people, as a group; we’re nothing if not political. The legislation for First Nations people [is] cradle-to-grave in a way no other Canadian citizen has to live.”

“It’s not a capacity issue; we have the capacity to do it. It’s the support structure I think we need to create,” says Poitras.

Saskatoon’s civic election is on Wednesday, Oct. 26.