Edmonton, soon to be largest Aboriginal population, embraces reconciliation aims

(Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, centre, last September with Treaty 6 chiefs. Brandi Morin/APTN Photo)

Brandi Morin
APTN National News
EDMONTONThe choke cherry trees that were planted last year in front of every Anglican Church in the Edmonton diocese to commemorate healing and reconciliation are now blossoming.

It is a good sign, says Bishop Jane Alexander – perhaps symbolic of what’s to come.

Reconciliation in Alberta’s capital city, which will soon be home to the largest Aboriginal population in Canada, began when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held a national event there in March 2014.

Alexander said her diocese is working to implement the apology the Anglican Church made to residential school survivors through various initiatives. They include providing education to clergy members, community outreach and welcoming cultural practices within the church.

Although things are happening, Alexander acknowledges that change will not come overnight.

Lewis Cardinal’s parents attended residential school. Cardinal lives in Edmonton and is the co-chair of the Alberta commissioner on human rights and justice, he never expected to see an apology from the government let alone a TRC during lifetime.

“So this comes as a pleasant step forward,” said Cardinal in light of the final TRC event held Tuesday.

“This is a new chapter. What we heard (Tuesday) is the foreword of that new chapter.”

Cardinal resounded TRC Commissioner Wilton Littlechild’s statement that reconciliation is a process that will take generations to unfold.

“We’re talking about generational work here – in the sense that we’re not going to change everything in my lifetime. But what we’re going to see is a softening and an acceptance of the Indigenous people in our cities,” said Cardinal.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, an TRC honorary witness, was in Ottawa Monday and then flew home to be present at city hall council chambers where a live broadcast of the TRC final report streamed to a packed audience.

Following the release, Iveson said he is looking forward to his children being able to learn a more truthful story about the history of Indigenous people, including the injustices of residential schooling.

“Frankly, saying Ottawa has to fix this isn’t enough,” said Iveson. “The call has to come from all Canadians so that it is heard by all federal leaders, regardless of the party, so that we can develop a national consensus to take action to address particularly the resource gaps that exist in terms of funding to support the health and well-being, welfare and education of Indigenous people on reserve or in the cities where they reside. Those are treaty obligations.”

Boyle Street Community Services cultural advisor Gary Moostoos is optimistic about reconciliation efforts within Edmonton.

“I’ve seen that there’s a lot of attempts being made to build relationships with the Aboriginal people,” said Moostoos, who pointed out that Iveson and council members have gone as far as participating in sweat lodges with area chiefs and consult with Indigenous elders.

Moostoos also works with residential school survivors and provided support to them in Ottawa this week. He said he’s noticed a shift in their attitudes towards reconciliation.

“A lot of anger and frustration and fears have kind of dissipated and they’re feeling safer to be who they are,” he said.

He added Mayor Iveson takes his role of honorary witness seriously, which has a big impact on reconciliation for the city, and that Edmonton is setting a precedent for other municipalities.

“Other cities have made progress, however, with the leadership we have in place I think Edmonton is going to take lead in being the city that other cities can look up to and will be able to follow suit,” said Moostoos.

After declaring a year of reconciliation last year, Iveson announced three main priority areas the city would undertake:

          Educate city staff on the history and impact of residential schools

          Commit to higher Aboriginal youth participation in civic programs, fill gaps in city programming and allow youth to explore careers in the public service

          Create a public space in the city for Indigenous ceremonies and cultural practices

It’s difficult to measure the effects of initiatives such as educating staff, said Mike Chow, director of Aboriginal relations with the city.

“It’s not like mainstream society where you have a semester, a test and then you get a grade. One of the things that we’ve learned about our Indigenous cultures is that learning is lifelong. And it’s never ending,” said Chow.

The city is working with various partners and youth to give opportunities to provide leadership training and to become involved with reconciliation.

The Sacred Earth project is the first of its kind in Canada and will provide an area within Edmonton where Aboriginal people can practice cultural and ceremonial activities. The project is estimated to cost $6 million and expected to be completed by 2017.

Chow said these are a taste of Edmonton’s more long-term “transformational” reconciliation actions to come. The city will review the final TRC reports and recommendations so that further steps can be taken.

“I’m really excited about the TRC reports because we were waiting for what the findings would do so we can catalyze with more action. I think with the release we’re going to be taking a look at that in more detail to make sure that our programs, services and activities going forward can align with it,” said Chow.

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