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City stalls bylaw for Indigenous advisory committee

Experts on Indigenous-led governance The Gazette spoke to cautioned against changes, saying it's key to honour the original spirit of consultation that forged the committee’s draft bylaw.
2809 Indigenous advisory file CC
Whether the bylaw will be amended when it returns to council and how extensively is currently unclear. Here, 2019 councillors attend a traditional Métis sash dance during the launch of the Payhonin Reconciliation series. FILE/Photo

St. Albert city council was set to reconsider a new Indigenous advisory committee bylaw Oct. 11, but a comment from Mayor Cathy Heron sent Tuesday morning says the city will need more time. 

The bylaw will outline the structure of an Indigenous advisory committee required to move the city forward on reconciliation, and was initially drawn up in consultation with Indigenous groups, but council directed administration in June to consider their feedback for potential amendments.

Experts on Indigenous-led governance The Gazette spoke to cautioned against changes, saying the original spirit of consultation that forged the committee’s draft bylaw is key for ensuring the committee is set up for success.

Stems from Payhonin recommendation

Several of the 14 recommendations outlined in the city’s 2019 Payhonin report — a report outlining ways the city can make progress on reconciliation — centre around the creation of an Indigenous advisory committee. 

Not only does the report recommend a committee be created (Recommendation 2), but also that the city establish “sustainable funding” for the committee (Recommendation 3), and that the committee be tasked with developing a “detailed or comprehensive reconciliation plan for St. Albert” (Recommendation 1). 

To create the bylaw, city-hired consultant pipikwan pêhtâkwan conducted engagement with Indigenous groups and community members in and around St. Albert through focus groups and one-on-one interviews. 

According to the framework, the committee would be made up of a maximum of 16 members: up to seven urban Indigenous community members, one Métis Nation of Alberta Region 4 member, one St. Albert-Sturgeon Métis Local member, and one confederacy of Treaty Six member. 

Additionally, the committee would include up to five First Nations members from the surrounding area (one each from Alexander First Nation, Alexis Nakota Sioux, Enoch Cree Nation, Paul First Nation, and Michel First Nation). 
The framework presented in June showed the committee would have an honoraria budget of $10,200, with the chair receiving $150 per meeting, and each member in attendance receiving $75. The budget was established based on the full capacity of the committee (16 members) and eight annual meetings. 

The committee would also have a budget allocation of $7,500, similar to allocations of other council committees, such as the policing committee, which has an annual budget of $10,000. 

Council looks to tweak proposed committee  

During a June 13 committee meeting, council raised questions about some aspects of the committee framework, such as membership outside the municipal boundary, and honoraria.

Coun. Shelley Biermanski said she would not be able to approve the bylaw as it was presented to the committee in June. 

“Taxpayers want to have reconciliation within their city and be involved, but when we’re going to nine areas outside of our city and telling the majority of citizens they can’t participate, I just think there’s a lot of problems,” Biermanski said, adding she would like to see participation from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants. 

Other council members questioned whether honoraria should be included. 

Cindy de Bruijn, St. Albert’s senior manager of community relations, explained during the meeting the honoraria were included to “honour the teachings of reciprocity and respecting protocol.”

“When you’re taking something … such as knowledge, something should really be given in return,” de Bruijn said, adding that the recommendation for honoraria came directly from consultation with Indigenous groups. 

“By not supporting this, there could be the perspective that we don’t listen when we’re told,” de Bruijn said.

Coun. Ken MacKay said he understands honoraria being included with ceremony, but struggles to see its application inside a committee. 

Mayor Cathy Heron expressed similar concerns. 

“I want to believe the members that we’re looking at would want to sit and give up their time,” Heron said, noting those who sit on other council committees are not compensated with honoraria.

Ultimately, the committee voted to have administration consider their feedback for potential amendments to the proposed bylaw, though it is currently unclear how feedback will factor into an amended bylaw. 

Shalene Jobin, an associate professor in the University of Alberta’s faculty of native studies, and the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous governance, said seeking a consultant to form the structure of a future Indigenous advisory committee was a strong first step from the city.  

However, Jobin noted respecting the process of consultation means reaching out to Indigenous community members shouldn’t end there.  

“What’s important is that the spirit of how it started is completed,” Jobin said. “If it’s an act of reconciliation, then Indigenous people would have a chance to give feedback on what their suggested changes are.”

Asked about honoraria, Jobin said this form of compensation, or its equivalent, is an important part of Indigenous worldviews in terms of ceremony and protocol. 

Further, she said it’s important to consider who is being asked to sit on the committee, and whether they might have the same socio-economic levels of equity as others who might volunteer on the city’s committees. 

“If they don’t have a job with a living wage and they’re asked to be participating in this and give their knowledge and expertise, it would seem appropriate that an honorarium would support them and their family for the time that they’re committing to this,” Jobin said.

Jobin also noted the honorarium could be a small but important way to bridge the gap between the ongoing and often uncompensated work Indigenous peoples take part in.   

“It's acknowledging that Indigenous peoples have been asked to do a lot in this era of reconciliation with no form of reciprocity,” Jobin said. 

Lewis Cardinal has been involved extensively with reconciliation initiatives in the City of Edmonton for years, for example as chair of the formerly-active Edmonton Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee. 

Similarly, Cardinal said that with the leaps forward an Indigenous advisory committee could help the City of St. Albert take, it’s crucial the city stands by the committee and their needs — for example, in terms of honoraria. 

“Urban community leaders — be it in Edmonton or St. Albert — are swamped,” Cardinal said. “There are so many things that need to be accomplished, and we are always asked to do things for free.

“There comes a breaking point, especially when you’re going to develop something where the city is going to get a tremendous amount of recognition.”

When asked to comment on concerns about amending the bylaw without seeking additional consultation, Heron said in an email Tuesday morning that administration will be coming to council for a time extension on the bylaw and any potential changes. 

City spokesperson Cory Sinclair had formerly said in a Sept. 14 email the bylaw would return to council on Oct. 11. 

"Administration will use the extra time to ensure we have the right path forward regarding this important work," Heron said in the email. "Our [standing committee of the whole] and council meetings are always open to the public and we would welcome any and all input on the bylaw."

Coun. Ken MacKay said everything involving St. Albert’s community “should have an Indigenous lens,” but added it’s a matter of how to “work efficiently and effectively” to bring on those perspectives and make sure the committee is set up for success. 

He said his concern about the honorariums stemmed from whether the payment would go to the individual sitting on the committee, or the group they were a part of. 

“Those were the intricacies I was looking at,” MacKay said. “How do we work around some of those administrative details … those are the nuances that we’re trying to work out with administration.”

Rachel Narvey

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