City Councilor Regina’s question that indigenous people allegedly want to become homeless sparks outrage

A Question Regina Ward 7 Coun. Terina Shaw’s question about homelessness and indigenous culture during a city council meeting sparked a conversation about cultural misunderstandings.

The question came up while discussing a motion aimed at ending homelessness in Regina.

Shaw’s question, posed to Sheila Wignes-Paton of the Phoenix Residential Society during last Wednesday’s city council meeting, contained an anecdote about an Indigenous person from Regina Treaty/Status Indian Services (RT/SIS) with whom Shaw had spoken.

Shaw said she was told there are people within the indigenous culture who don’t want houses.

“Could you bring this up and talk to her, please?” Because until I heard that from her, I had no idea people like that existed, and I guess there are, and are you aware of that?” Shaw asked.

Wignes-Paton responded by saying, “I think maybe it’s the settler culture that’s imposing something on the indigenous community and some might choose not to have a home per se. They feel more comfortable living with different people [and] move around so I can see that happening.”

Responding to Shaw’s question, Shiela Wignes-Patron said some people are comfortable moving around and don’t want a home per se. (City of Regina/YouTube)

Wignes-Paton went on to say that the majority of the people Phoenix Residential works with on its home project are Indigenous and that everyone’s individual wishes are respected.

Shaw then followed.

“That just confirms what she said, that there will always be people who are homeless in the indigenous culture because they prefer, by the mayor, is that right?” Shaw asked.

“Yes, I would say so,” Wignes-Patron replied.

Later in the session, Kale MacLellan presented her support for the End Homelessness Motion. At the end of her presentation, she spoke directly to Council Member Shaw.

“No, there are no people who want to be homeless. Everyone wants a place to call home. Some people choose to travel, just like people who spend their winters in Arizona or Florida,” MacLellan said.

“Presenting homelessness as a choice is an odd attitude. Nobody chooses to be homeless. Nobody chooses to be insecure.”

Kale MacLellan says Shaw’s comments could be harmful to Indigenous people affected by homelessness. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC News)

district 6 district. Daniel LeBlanc asked MacLellan if she happened to be indigenous and if she was familiar with the traditions of the Plains people.

“I’m Indigenous, so I’m probably the right person to ask this question, not another white woman,” MacLellan said.

In an interview with CBC, Councilor Shaw said that when she asked the question, she “didn’t even really” pay attention to the color of her skin.

“I asked her because she took care of the apartment first,” Shaw said. “It seemed like she was sort of an expert at it, having been involved with this type of housing for many years.”

Shaw went on to say that there are people – not just tribal peoples – who may not want housing.

“I’ve worked with people [from] all different kinds of backgrounds that don’t always want a home, they want to be wanderers, they want to be the gypsies of the world,” she said, using an ethnic label that’s widely considered offensive and historically inaccurate, “and that’s also in Order .”

Shaw said the question came from the heart and was prompted by information from an Indigenous community leader.

“We were told that not everyone wants a home, that in indigenous culture there are people called wanderers,” she said. “My question was whether what is supposedly true is true, then we have to find a place where we meet people according to their needs and where they want to.”

She said she asked the question because she wanted it to be dealt with in Council.

“We as the council and mayor, we’re not the experts, the people out there, the nonprofits, the people who run this and do this work every day are the experts.”

Shaw said she meant no harm and felt no apology was necessary.

“I just asked a question, I wanted clarification and some help with understanding.”

Response from proponents

MacLellan, a community organizer and student, said in an interview with CBC that Shaw’s comments are “an interesting way to frame homelessness.”

“I’m not aware of any teachings about people repeatedly choosing to be homeless,” she said. “It’s really disappointing to see this rhetoric from Coun. Hearing Shaw repeatedly because she only takes one person’s point of view and not the countless other indigenous peoples who have told her that people need homes and people want homes now.”

MacLellan said these types of comments could harm Indigenous people affected by homelessness.

“If people don’t see this as a problem or that these are people who just choose to be homeless, it makes it a lot harder for people who want to find a secure life,” she said. “I think it’s a really easy way for city officials to shift the blame.”

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) released a statement on Wednesday asking to enlighten Shaw on the real history of Canada.

“Without an honest understanding, reconciliation is impossible,” the statement said.

It is annoying that an elected official in Treaty 4 territory is spreading “such racist and uneducated views”.

“First Nations people have not been beaten and broken by this system time and time again, and statements like this just continue,” the statement continued. “Colonization is what keeps First Nations people homeless.”

“Nobody wants to be homeless.”

Indigenous homelessness advocate Shylo Stevenson presented at Wednesday’s city council meeting and was present for Shaw’s question. In an interview with CBC, he said Shaw’s comments shocked him.

“It blew me away,” he said. “We were told to shut up because we were just blown away.”

Stevenson said he wished the question had been put to an Indigenous person with cultural experience in this area.

“The person who asked them wasn’t the right path.”

Stevenson said he didn’t learn anything about people who don’t want homes.

“Maybe she misinterpreted what she was told, I don’t know, but we are nomads,” he said. “We travel, we move, but I’ve never met anyone who wants to be homeless.”

Shylo Stevenson says Shaw’s comments were shocking. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC News)

Stevenson said Shaw’s comments were frustrating because they could potentially increase the stigma surrounding Aboriginal homelessness.

“It just helped, and to be recognized like that in a city council meeting is just another slap in the face to indigenous culture.”

count. LeBlanc says insider talks aren’t for settlers to “weaponize”.

LeBlanc said in an interview with CBC that while he doesn’t claim to know everything about Indigenous knowledge, there are common misconceptions about the homeless. He said the notion that some people want to become homeless “is largely exaggerated”.

LeBlanc, who filed the first application, said that even if some people think so, there are still hundreds who want an apartment and can’t get it.

He said he knew Shaw heard this information from a “very respected Indigenous leader in town,” but that leader was not in the room during the council meeting.

“I would say whatever internal conversations the indigenous community may have, it is not up to the settlers to use that knowledge that could be shared with them, or to weaponize that knowledge in any way,” he said.

LeBlanc said the city has often made the common mistake of believing that reconciliation should be led by settlers.

“[People think] Reconciliation should always feel comfortable for settlers, and I think that’s a racist assumption too.”

“I’m not saying Councilor Shaw makes these. I say, I and we as a city have made this historic, and it’s time for us to make an uncomfortable but necessary reconciliation.”

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