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EDITORIAL: Real nation-to-nation building can't be done from a cubicle

"Many municipalities, organizations, businesses, and individuals have made attempts at action. Some have seen measured success. Others have come up short."

In December 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report and its 94 calls to action to further reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples.

In the several years since, many municipalities, organizations, businesses, and individuals have made attempts at action.

Some have seen measured success. Others have come up short.

All have been incremental and few, if any, have achieved true sweeping change.

That's the thing about building a movement; about making amends; about healing – rarely are these quick accomplishments, nor can they be if any are to be lasting and meaningful.

In a realm surrounded by complex sensitivities, and a dark history, fear reigns, and a sort of paralysis has developed over how to step forward, it seems. 

But grassroots efforts in our region are proving it can be done.

The advent of Indigenous and reconciliation advisor roles is one such effort municipalities, of late, have taken an interest in, and started committing to.

It's certainly not enough, but it's a step that, if taken meaningfully, has great potential. 

St. Albert city council committed $50,000 at its July 5 meeting to the creation of the role to advise the next council's guiding committee on such tasks as Truth and Reconciliation calls to action; policy review; and updating public information, signage, and the city's website.

Morinville town council voted July 13 to spend up to $60,000 to hire a reconciliation consultant. 

Strathcona County voted July 6 to do it, too.

Even Edmonton's Fringe Festival has one, who happens to be Anishinaabe playwright-actor-director Josh Languedoc from St. Albert. His role will be to better include Indigenous content and fill gaps in the festival's programming, governance, and execution through an Indigenous lens.

But Devon has really been doing it for the past couple of years. 

By mid-2019, the town had hired Mitch Wincentaylo as their first indigenous engagement and culture and inclusion co-ordinator. He quickly became the how-to model for getting it right.

With the town's support, he began to reach out, and connect, directly, with Indigenous communities – in person, and not from behind a desk. Devon's council followed his lead and did the same. 

The list of connective initiatives and activities he has arranged is lengthy, inspired, and most of all, authentic in its achievement.

Not a hint of tokenism here.

But the potential for it is of true concern, especially if nothing comes of the roles some municipalities are scrambling to create.

St. Albert tried it in 2019. But a lack of secure funding for its future, in short order, spelled its demise.

This time the city has devoted the funding to it. Next comes the commitment to seeing it through.

The community will be watching. And so we should. This shift in approach is long overdue. 

Meaningful change with Indigenous peoples will come from giving this new advisor the freedom to operate outside of hierarchy or bureaucracy; with the city's and council's full support; with an ongoing financial investment in its success; and a lot of flexibility.

Real nation-to-nation building involves pipe ceremonies, and bannock eating – it's impossible to do from a cubicle.

There will be successes. And likely failures, too. Failures won't be a loss if there is learning, and progress, no matter how small.

It's also how it's done, not how fast, that matters.

What's most important is for St. Albert to get it right. It's time.

Editorials are the consensus view of the St. Albert Gazette's editorial board.

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