Murray says community is key to her work

Kristin Murray did not set out to be a politician.

“I’d been working in the community for a long time and had always just worked the front lines and I was happy in that,” says Murray. “Then I had a supervisor see something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

Through that, she applied for a leadership course through St. Francis Xavier University, which linked her to a network of women in leadership positions.

Her journey to city council, and the mayor’s seat, started with that last-minute bid to start a campaign and family efforts to run it.

“When 2018 rolled around, it was a couple days before you had to submit the paperwork and I saw the slate of candidates and I thought ‘none of them look like me, none of them know what my family needs’,” she said. “And it kind of came to me that, if not me, then who?”

She said she put the question of whether or not to run to fate.

“I felt compelled, so being an Indigenous person and also Black, I said ‘I’ll put tobacco down and if I get all of my 25 signatures, I’ll run, if not, it’s not meant for me’,” she says.

Murray got all the signatures in one stop at the Timmins Native Friendship Centre.

“When I ran, my kids were everywhere with me, it was just the three of us, and they helped me,” she says about the campaign. “They’re certainly proud and they know what it all involves, but we’re not attention seekers, so for them, they kind of couldn’t wait until it was over.”

She loves to see how her experience has impacted her family, and how her children have learned how to navigate the systems around them.

“We should really be giving our kids the tools to stand up when things are not right,” she says. “And I think they’ve gotten some of that.”

Murray was appointed mayor of Timmins in August 2022. The seat had been vacated after George Pirie was elected as the new Timmins MPP last June.

Murray was the first person of colour to hold the seat of mayor in Timmins, and she says she felt a sense of responsibility to future leaders in that role.

“When I was appointed mayor for that short time, there was pressure, self-imposed, because if something were to happen while I was mayor, I would be blamed,” she said. “Then it would be ‘look at what happened when that Black, Indigenous woman was mayor’, so I over-analyzed all of my actions and my interactions when I was in that position to make sure it wouldn’t taint it for future people.”

While she did not pursue the job during the last municipal election, she still sits as the council member for Ward 5. She's received feedback about how her presence in those positions shifted people’s perspectives on the city.

“If those little things are what it takes for people to feel comfortable, knowing that there’s progressive change happening in the community, I’ll take it,” she says.

Growing up in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood she describes seeing the effect having a space to learn and create had on her and those in her community, and she’d like to apply those lessons.

“We were poor, we lived in social housing, my mom didn’t have employment in my younger years,” she says. “I don’t complain about that because it shaped who I am, but there’s not anyone around the table who sees it through that lens.”

She says that the community deserves to see a place where they can express themselves and connect, and she hopes to create that kind of space in the city.

“Art and culture is huge, and I would love to have a facility to support that,” she says. “We would be so much more successful if there was a place or a community centre as a one-stop shop for everything.”

Her experiences continue to shape her and place her as a role model for those in her community.

“If people do see themselves in me, great, I love that, but it’s more about we have a lot of work to do, and getting it done,” says Murray.

“I like being connected to the nonprofit sector and it really keeps you grounded, and that’s the work I feel I’m meant for,” she says about her future. “However, that policy change needs to happen and I have the mindset to see what changes need to occur, so it’s about having that balance.”

She says that maintaining that connection to the community is key to her continued career, wherever that leads.

“If I’m able to really remain connected in community, then I might be interested in those leadership roles, but if that’s not there in some capacity, it’s not for me.”

Amanda Rabski-McColl, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com