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Affirmation of Indigenous rights ‘a proud moment’: OPSEU’s Thomas

OPSEU Chiefs of Ontario Indigenous Mobilization Team (IMT)

Toronto – In keeping with its longstanding commitment to labour-Indigenous reconciliation, the Executive Board of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) has unanimously adopted an OPSEU Affirmation of Principles on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights.

Drafted in consultation with the union’s Indigenous Mobilization Team (IMT) and First Nations chiefs, the affirmation is intended to guide the union towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

OPSEU relied on input from Chief R. Stacey Laforme, Chief of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, who believes that joint labour-Indigenous initiatives are needed “now more than ever.”

“Canada’s Indigenous population is young and growing fast,” he noted. “In fact, over the next decade, we expect that 400,000 Indigenous youth will join the 900,000 already in the workforce. And Ontario is already home to more working‑age Indigenous adults than any other province.

“Very regrettably, those workers will earn wages on average 25 per cent lower than non‑Indigenous Canadians,” Chief Laforme added. “That’s one reason we believe it’s crucial to join with labour to close the unconscionable wage gap.”

The affirmation sets the stage for a process whereby OPSEU will work with Indigenous peoples to:

  • identify changes that make OPSEU more effective in organizing new Indigenous members;
  • negotiate contracts that reflect respectful partnerships; and
  • resolve workplace conflicts in ways that reflect Indigenous cultural practice.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas noted that Indigenous workers had been largely overlooked by the labour movement. “That is a gross injustice,” he said, “and this affirmation will go a long way to righting that wrong. We believe it can be the foundation for a strong partnership between Indigenous leaders and OPSEU.

“But organized labour can be effective only if efforts are inspired and led by Indigenous communities themselves,” Thomas cautioned. “To that end, we commit to fully supporting the voice of Indigenous members in Canada’s labour movement.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931