Kenora, Ontario

Organizing Against Racism

Kenora is a town of 16,000 people located in Treaty Three Territory* (northwestern Ontario). Fifteen percent of Kenora's population is indigenous and it serves as the regional center for thirteen Anishinaabe(Ojibway)  communities. Anishinaabe people must travel there to shop, attend medical appointments and conduct personal business. However, it is not a place where they feel safe or welcome. A common refrain amongst Indigenous and non-indigenous residents: “Kenora is a racist town but it's something nobody wants to talk about, It only comes up when something really bad happens [someone is killed] and it can't be ignored anymore.”

On October 4, 2000, someone was killed: a North Spirit Lake man named Max Kakegamic was found beaten to death on the streets of Kenora.  July 2005, two Kenora police officers were charged under the Police Services Act for suppressing evidence and other misconduct related to the case. February 2007 the Ontario Chief Coroner's office denied the family's request to open an inquest. His murder remains unsolved.

For many of Kenora's Anishinaabe residents, the Kakegamic case is not an isolated incident but rather a stark illustration of the consequences of racism. Aboriginal people in Kenora say that they are routinely harassed, intimidated or neglected by the police. On any given day, 90% of the people in the municipal jail are Aboriginal.

Since 2000, efforts had been made by the Kenora Police Services (KPS) at the initiative of now-retired police chief Dan Jorgenson, to address the problem of harassment and discrimination. Then in 2009 a decision was made by the town council to replace the KPS with Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). The initial responses we've heard from several Natives and non-natives is that this may be a step back and that they fear harassment will increase under the new police. Furthermore, there may not be the same level of accountability to local civilians.

In an episode that seems to confirm some of these fears, June 7, 2010, an OPP officer shot Helen Proulx, a resident of Kenora from Grassy Narrows First Nation, leaving her with a shattered pelvis. The Special Investigations Unit found the shooting “justified” while Proulx was charged with three offences including “assault with a weapon” and “possessing a weapon dangerous to the public.” But Proulx was very distraught and disoriented at the time and her “weapon” was described by witnesses as a “small paring knife” or a “butter knife.” There is no report of the police officer being injured in this alleged assault.

During a visit to Kenora in the fall of 2009, CPT Aboriginal Justice Team (AJT) members were introduced to the Kenora Resource Team, a group composed of individuals representing ten organizations in Kenora (including the OPP) that meets once a month. Kenora Resource Team states that its goals are to “promote cultural understanding, awareness and education about racism and discrimination and to bring an end to race-related victimization.” The Aboriginal Justice Team aims to support positive initiatives by this and other groups in Kenora that are committed to undoing racism.

CPT maintained a full-time team in Kenora from September 2004 to May 2005. CPT returned to Kenora in October 2005 for two months and again for another two months in the Spring of 2006. By continuing to organize regular international delegations to Kenora, CPT-AJT supports a movement of non-Indigenous alliance with the Anishinaabe and other Indigenous Peoples.

Racism, as it targets and affects Aboriginal people in Canada, is inextricably linked to land, control of land and access to the land's Resources.

 

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*For more information on treaties