For centuries, the area that is now Sault Ste. Marie was a traditional gathering place for Indigenous peoples living in what are now Canada and the United States. That tradition continued after European contact, as traders and voyageurs met with and exchanged goods with Anishinaabe inhabitants. Today, Mayor Christian Provenzano feels that recapturing the spirit of being a “gathering place” is essential to Sault Ste. Marie’s future.
“Throughout this term, I’ve been a vocal advocate for the importance of working towards reconciliation with our Indigenous residents and neighbours,” said Provenzano. “I’m proud of the positive relationships I have built with the leaders of our neighbouring First Nations in Garden River and Batchewana, as well as our urban Indigenous community and our local Metis community.”
One of Mayor Provenzano’s first actions as Mayor in 2014 was to accept an invitation to visit the Sault Ste. Marie Indian Friendship Centre. At this meeting, Mayor Provenzano listened to the concerns of urban Indigenous residents and he committed to taking cultural competency training. In June of 2015, the Mayor’s Office helped fund a day-long cultural competency workshop and opened up the training to City staff, members of Council, and community members. A later education session for City Council members also took place with Batchewana First Nation.
With the Future SSM initiative reaffirming the importance of truth and reconciliation, Mayor Provenzano took the step of creating a Mayor’s Indigenous advisory circle, called the Bawating Advisory Circle. The Mayor believes that the advisory circle is another positive step forward on the path to local reconciliation.
Provenzano said, “Look at the work being done by Algoma University and Sault College. Look at what is happening with the Shingwauk Education Trust with their work on the Anishinabek Discovery Centre and the National Chiefs Library. We’re going to have Canada’s first research library that is organized and run by First Nations right here in our community. Sault Ste. Marie and our neighbouring communities have the potential to be national leaders in promoting truth and reconciliation. With the right leadership, we can be a place that other Canadian communities look to for inspiration.”
While promoting and working towards truth and reconciliation is the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, Mayor Provenzano also believes it can also lead to social – economic benefits.
“The Indigenous population is younger and growing faster compared to Canada as a whole,” said Provenzano. “We have two post-secondary institutions in Sault Ste. Marie that are committed to the success of Indigenous students, to providing a culturally appropriate learning environment, and to incorporating Indigenous-focused programming into their academic offerings. I think there is a real opportunity to market our community as a destination of choice for Indigenous students and upon graduation, encourage them to stay and join our workforce. Embracing the cause of reconciliation can only help us in this regard.”