Indigenous leaders and the City of St. John's signed a declaration on Thursday — a promise to support the rights, strengthen relationships and bolster inclusivity between the capital city and its growing Indigenous community.
The signing ceremony happened at the Cochrane Centre at 81 Cochrane Street.
"It's important because we want a commitment to advance the rights of Indigenous people in this city and in this province," said Stacey Howse, representing First Voice, a coalition that includes members of city council and initiated the declaration.
"We want not only a commitment of words, but we want to see action."
Howse said the relationship between Indigenous people and all levels of government must continue to change, calling Thursday's signing a crucial and historic step.
"We do have a long history of colonization and historic systemic violence, and we really need to work toward overcoming the disparities that still exist between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people," she said.
Howse said the next step begins with creating a community action plan, which will be developed in partnership of First Voice, First Light and the city.
City plays a role
Coun. Maggie Burton and Coun. Ian Froude sit as members of the First Voice Partnership Table. Burton and Froude helped bring the signing of the declaration together with the help of Indigenous members in the city.
Burton told CBC News council representation on the coalition allows them to better work with Indigenous residents and address ways to move forward as a city.
"Like every other city in Canada, we have to grapple a lot with our past. We have to decolonize our institutions. We have to Indigenize our institutions and make sure that we move forward in a spirit of truth and reconciliation as was discussed today.
"It's really clear that each individual in Canada has a significant role to play when it comes to reconciliation, but so do municipal governments and provincial governments, and every level of community and governmental organization really has something to do."
Mayor Danny Breen said inclusion is one of the city's goals — building a community where everyone can feel like they belong.
He said signing the declaration was important as it also recognizes the contributions of Indigenous community members living in St. John's.
"I think the results are starting to show themselves now. We have developed a very positive working relationship," said Breen.
"The organization has been involved in our inclusivity committee. They've been included in the work that we're doing to deal with racism in our society. So their involvement with us in helping us work toward those issues is invaluable."
St. John's has one of the fastest-growing urban indigenous communities in Canada, growing 237.3 per cent between 2006 and 2016. Howse said 7,000 Indigenous people live in St. John's today.