City to consult on municipal calls to action

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St. Albert city staff will be looking to the Indigenous community for advice over the coming months as administration works to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.

Indigenous reconciliation topped the list of additional priorities not related to council’s strategic plan, which are outlined in the city’s corporate business plan. Some of the planned activities include forming a task force and exploring the possibility of an advisory committee to council.

“We will be starting to reach out in the upcoming months to the local Indigenous community, and we’re looking for advice and involvement in terms of how we move forward,” said Kelly Jerrott, director of cultural services.

The idea is to have input from Indigenous peoples who have been affected by Canada’s historic abuses, such as residential schools. St. Albert had two such schools, including Youville School, which closed in 1948; and Edmonton Poundmaker School, which closed in 1968 and is now the site of the Poundmaker Lodge.

Many who were forced to attend residential schools in Canada suffered physical, sexual and mental abuse.

The community of St. Albert has taken steps toward reconciliation in recent years. Last year, St. Albert’s healing garden opened and following the municipal election in October, Alexander First Nation elder Tony Arcand led a smudging ceremony the day of council’s swearing-in ceremony to cleanse council chambers and the Douglas Cardinal boardroom. There have also been blanket exercises happening in the community.

Efforts by the city to support the commission’s calls to action were approved by the previous city council on Sept. 11, 2017. Council members approved five motions at that meeting: to support all calls to action, to have city staff consult with local Indigenous elders on creating an Indigenous relations advisory committee, to have them subsequently report back to council, conduct an Indigenous cultural awareness workshop with council, and consult with Indigenous elders to develop an inclusive statement of acknowledgement for events.

It is still too early for timelines, but Jerrott said the city is using those motions as a starting point.

“The first step will be to get some advice in terms of, is an advisory committee the right direction, how should we approach it and what should that process be,” she said.

“We want to make sure that we’re being respectful of the local community and local culture and appropriate protocols, and that we’re engaging the right nations and communities, and that we’re being very inclusive.”

Once staff begin drawing up their report for council, Jerrott said the goal is to come up with an approach to specifically address calls to action that relate to municipalities.

As for the task force, Jerrott said that will initially be internal.

“While this is an administrative task force … this is just to help us get moving so we can get some of the groundwork in place to move forward with engagement in the right manner,” she said.

After the corporate business plan was presented to council, Mayor Cathy Heron said it aligned closely to what council had asked for. Although reconciliation is not one of council’s six strategic priorities, Heron was supportive of it being included in the corporate business plan.

“That didn’t land in our strategic priorities but it did in administration’s, so that is a good addition to us as well,” she said.

Jerrott said Indigenous reconciliation is “very high” on administration’s priority list.

“It’s important that we start to recognize our local history, and telling those stories of our local history so we are learning to move forward as a community,” she said.

“As a community, and as an administration, we’re still learning.”

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April Hudson

April is the editor of the St. Albert Gazette