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St. Albert Founders' Day policy to be updated

Scope and language changes to St. Albert's Founders' Day proclamation policy will be presented to council later this year in an effort to make the policy more inclusive of the city's history.
Options to modify the language and scope of St. Albert's Founders' Day policy will be presented to council later this year. FILE/Photo

Changes to St. Albert's Founders' Day policy will come to council later this year to make it more inclusive of the city's history.

The City of St. Albert recognizes Jan. 14 as Founders' Day to commemorate the approximate anniversary of Father Albert Lacombe and Bishop Alexandre Taché naming St. Albert in 1861. The day was proclaimed for the first time 10 years ago by then-mayor Nolan Crouse.

During the Jan. 10 council meeting, a motion put forward by Mayor Cathy Heron passed on consent directing city administration to work with the St. Albert Arts and Heritage Foundation to develop "options for modernization that include promoting a broad and inclusive vision for commemoration of St. Albert’s history" before October. 

While the policy says the area now called St. Albert was an Indigenous gathering place called Mista-sakahikun by the Cree and a Métis settlement long before the arrival of Father Lacombe and Bishop Taché, Heron says there's room to better reflect the community's history.

"[The update will] adjust the wording and make it not be that the arrival of Father Lacombe and Bishop Taché was the beginning of St. Albert, because there's obviously a long history before that," Heron said in an interview.

"The proclamation does refer to Indigenous people being here for thousands of years before and it talks about the Métis, so it's not that it's wrong, it's just that why have we identified Jan. 14 as the day? Because it's not the day, it's just one of the days."

Although the motion passed to begin the process, no changes have yet been made, so policy dictated Heron proclaim Jan. 14, 2023 as Founders' Day during the Jan. 10 council meeting. 

Prior to reading the proclamation and presenting it to Arts and Heritage Foundation education programmer and St. Albert/Sturgeon County Métis Local No. 1904 member Alex Despins, Heron spoke about the importance of expanding the policy's scope.

"It's important that we work towards finding ways to acknowledge and celebrate so many remarkable moments and milestones from St. Albert's history, while also celebrating current and future achievements as we continue to grow collectively, listen, and learn," Heron said. "We honour the importance of truth and we will continue to share experiences as a growing and dynamic community."

Arts and Heritage Foundation executive director Ann Ramsden told The Gazette she hopes groups such as Michif Cultural Connections, the Métis Local No. 1904, and the Michel Band will also contribute to possible updates presented to council. 

"Currently the central focus of the proclamation is the establishment of the St. Albert Mission, and it does acknowledge the First Nations and the Métis who were here, but there are many other groups whose contribution to the success of what we now call St. Albert is not reflected in that proclamation," Ramsden said.

"I think it's really about having that discussion with other groups who have contributed and who are here," she said. "We need to hear everybody's voices."

A year in the making

The Arts and Heritage Foundation requested the reading of the Founders' Day proclamation be cancelled last year to address concerns of the policy's limited scope, read a backgrounder prepared for the Jan. 10 council meeting by Tamsin Brooks and Elizabeth Wilkie of the city's community services department.

"Discussion between Mayor Heron and administration took place following the request. It was decided that Founders' Day would proceed," the backgrounder reads." In 2022, Mayor Heron prefaced the proclamation with an acknowledgement of the sensitivity and a commitment to review the policy and the proclamation to identify opportunities to improve inclusivity in the details of the founding of the community."

When asked why council and the city went through with the proclamation last year and again this year, Heron said there hadn't been enough time to make changes to the policy until now. 

"I didn't see any harm in reading the proclamation along with the acknowledgement that it's not perfect, and I don't have to be shy of that," Heron said.

"I made a very concerted effort last year and again this year to talk about the pros and cons of the policy because I don't want to disregard what Father Lacombe and Bishop Taché did — they were significant in our community's history — but I think [the policy update will ] let us be more open to everyone." 

Ramsden said she understood the delay and is glad the work can begin. 

"Rather than just keep reading it every year ... it needs to be reviewed and there need to be many groups at the table to review it and have input, so that we can really truly reflect all the history of St. Albert," she said.

"As we work towards diversity and inclusion, we do need to take a look at things that we've just read automatically."

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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