New research centre focuses on urban Aboriginal issues

Researchers at the University of Lethbridge and several partner organizations are establishing a unique collaborative centre to research issues relating to urban aboriginal communities in Alberta and Canada.

The Centre for Urban Aboriginal Research (CUAR) will assist with developing policy-relevant research as it relates to urban Aboriginal issues.

Members of the research group will join with regional First Nations and Aboriginal community members and advocates city and regional government officials, on Thursday, Oct. 20 (9 a.m., AH100) at a one-day symposium at the University of Lethbridge.

The group will hear from Bev Jacobs, the past president of the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) and Heather King-Andrews, the Research Officer for the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC) and the Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network (UAKN). Representation from Aboriginal Affairs in Edmonton has also been confirmed, as well as the attendance of local and regional First Nations and Aboriginal leaders.

The intent of the Centre for Urban Aboriginal Research is, through relevant research, to help better inform policymakers and residents about the dynamics of the urban aboriginal community -- a population with political, economic and social force but that is under-represented in many forms of government, community advocacy or research.

"Alberta's urban Aboriginal population is the fastest growing in Canada and this trend is reflected in Lethbridge, a city of more than 87,000 people," says Dr. Yale Belanger, a researcher in the U of L's Faculty of Health Sciences and Native American Studies.

"There are an estimated 3,500 permanent Aboriginal residents in Lethbridge. This is approximately 4.1 per cent of the city's population," Belanger said.

"The number of people 'couch surfing' and temporarily living in the city is not reflected in this number, but grows significantly each year with the introduction of new students to the college and university. We conservatively estimate that on any given day in Lethbridge, the local Aboriginal population numbers in the neighbourhood of 10,000 because the city is a service centre for the surrounding areas."

Belanger says networking with the local First Nations and Aboriginal communities has been ongoing in an effort to establish working relationships. In 2010, an initial symposium incorporated the views of several local First Nations and Aboriginal leaders, agency representatives and community-based advocates.

"Participants and potential partners, especially our representatives from various First Nations communities, indicated that such a Centre was important, and of great value," says Belanger. "As well, we believe that it is extremely important to create a non-politicized location where we can improve our research capacity."

Belanger adds that the group wants to grow a body of literature through research reports, case studies, and ultimately scholarly publications to help inform other communities of our local progress.

"We are also planning to draw from a growing literature base being created by partnering agencies in the larger Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network to improve our understanding of how similar issues are being engaged nationally."

Initial funding for the project was obtained through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), which provided more than $62,000 to help the group start the process of establishing the centre in 2010.

There is no cost to attend the Oct. 20 symposium. Students and interested members of the general public are welcome, but seating is limited. Phone 403-382-7101 to register.