They call themselves Concrete Indians: Aboriginal families who live in urban areas.
According to Census data, it’s a growing trend. Between 2001 and 2006, the Aboriginal population in Toronto grew by 31 per cent.
TD Bank Group highlights this fact in its annual report, “Debunking myths surrounding Canada’s Aboriginal population.”
Derek Burleton is Vice President and Deputy Chief Economist with TD Bank Financial Group authored the report and says one of the myths surrounding Aboriginal people is that they live in remote, undeveloped areas.
“I think it’s striking that more than half of individuals in Canada that identify as aboriginals now locate outside of off reserves and most of those are in cities,” Burleton said.
He added that updated 2011 census data reinforced the trend.
Gabrielle Scrimshaw is part of that trend: She moved to Toronto from Hatchet Lake First Nation in Northern Saskatchewan. She says Toronto was a one way ticket, to work on Bay Street.
“I knew I had no friends I had no family in to…but I knew that the opportunity, I felt that I it was a good one and I felt that it could be transformative,” she said.
A resident of Toronto for three years, she also co-founded The Aboriginal Professionals Association of Canada. The organization now boasts more than 300 members.
She says it’s important for aboriginals to have a strong presence in the city.
And that is why she made the big decision to leave the safety net of home to be here.
“Within the Greater Toronto Area are 80% of Canada’s head offices,” she said. “Those are head offices that are making decisions for the rest of Canada…we need to have aboriginal representation in every one of those organizations.”
The Native Canadian Centre of Toronto is a cultural sanctuary for the city’s Aboriginal population. J’net Cavanagh works there in the communications department.
“The Toronto region has upwards of 70 to 90,0000 aboriginal people living in the GTA,” she said. “They started moving here in the early 70’s…this Native Canadian Centre used to be called the Indian club because there was a rise of indigenous people moving to the city.”
Cavanagh says most people move to the city for education or employment.
Farrah Keshane moved to Toronto with her 2 children. She says she moved to the city to make a life for her and her family. Originally from Key First Nation in Saskatchewan, she says the transition to a big city helped because she had a plan.
“Having a goal and ambition in mind and keeping a close connection to who you are and where you come from cause it’s so easy to get lost,” she said.
The TD Bank report looked at myths such as:
*Aboriginal people are falling behind in the job market
*Aboriginal businesses are not very successful
*Aboriginal businesses are just riding the coattails of the resource sector
This story is the first in a week-long series that will delve into myths and celebrate aboriginal people in the traditional and contemporary world.