Almost nine years ago a very crucial meeting took place in Thunder Bay that would change the future for all Thunder Bay Urban Aboriginals. Coming together at the table was the Federal Government, Community leaders, and several community members. Government officials were travelling across the country looking for eight potential communities to work with to introduce and embrace the Urban Aboriginal Strategy; a plan to help respond to the needs facing Aboriginal people living in key urban centres.
Bernice Dubec was at that meeting- a community activist who had been volunteering in Thunder Bay for decades. She is a member of Lac Seul First Nation but has spent most of her life in Thunder Bay. “I thought the Urban Aboriginal Strategy was a great idea, it would be a lot of work but I knew it would be a great benefit as long as we could all work together”.
With a small push from community members and the necessary government approvals, the Thunder Bay Urban Aboriginal Strategy was formed. Dubec was one of the community members to help get the UAS initiative off the ground. “There are so many community issues that needed to be addressed. This was a way to focus in on one area. All agencies in the city have so many issues; Most are under resourced, short-staffed, which in turn makes it very difficult to address the gaps in the community. This was the opportunity to address one of them.”
Dubec explains that it took some time to get everyone working in the same direction, but once that started the group was on a roll. “We made huge advancements. We established the first TBUAS Steering Committee that involved representatives from the Federal, Provincial and Municipal Governments, Aboriginal organizations and the broader community working together on the initiative. This was the first time it had ever happened in Thunder Bay, and the best part was we were meeting on a regular basis.”
Dubec got together with the group, and hired staff to develop a community plan and identify priorities. “When the Government announced the initiative they had it set in their mind how the strategy would be rolled out and what we would have to follow: community groups form committees, call for proposals, apply for funding. We would act as another level of bureaucracy.”
However, the Thunder Bay Urban Aboriginal Strategy agreed as a committee they didn’t want to fit the mould. After talking to the community, doing local surveys and understanding the wants and needs of Thunder Bay, they decided to work as one unit and to do only one project. “It took a lot of lobbying, arguing and rationalizing with the Government – we were the only city across Canada that developed this model. “
The Thunder Bay Urban Aboriginal Strategy has worked as one project since its inception, and it wasn’t until recently when the Government saw the success of the model, that they now have other cities follow.
The Province of Ontario has also followed in the footsteps of the TBUAS, developing a pilot project in three communities based on the Thunder Bay Neighbourhood Capacity Building Project (NCBP).
Since 2004, NCBP has been providing culturally designed and inclusive in-school and after school programming that focuses on proper nutrition and regular physical activity for children. Currently, NCBP programming is provided at seven Elementary schools in Thunder Bay and has proven to be very successful over the last seven years. Dubec explains that “The success of the strategy is based on the commitment from all of the different sectors. These people have to be admired for their dedication, and willingness to go above and beyond.”
Without the life experience from all of the hard working volunteers, including Dubec's knowledge from working in the health, social services, and justice sectors, the TBUAS would never have come to be.
Bernice Dubec worked at the Anishnawbe Mushkiki Health Access Centre in Thunder Bay for eleven years. She now resides in Fort Frances, Ontario.
“It is most important to collaborate with each other. A lesson I have learned that can be used in all communities: You have to put aside own agenda, work in unity.”