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Indigenous centre in Cochrane would create visibility

'I can't see anything that represents my people in Cochrane,' Stoney Nakoda First Nations elder says ahead of fundraising event
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Tom Jackson (Photo submitted)

The Rotary Club of Cochrane is raising funds to create a new multipurpose Indigenous Centre in town and it's all kicking off with a virtual Christmas concert starring beloved Canadian TV actor and country folk singer Tom Jackson on Dec. 19. 

In the wake of the grisly discover of 215 unmarked gravesites at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, the Rotary's community service director Melissa Engdahl said a project like this will create a space to build and repair relationships. 

The club's hope is to build an Indigenous-managed centre for Indigenous peoples in collaboration with non-Indigenous allies. 

Project advisors Stoney Nakoda and Wesley First Nations elder Tina Fox and youth leader Daryl Kootenay said an Indigenous Centre in Cochrane would help Indigenous neighbours, both on and off reserve, to see themselves represented in town for the first time. 

"I can't see anything that represents my people in Cochrane," said Fox. "And that's what started this conversation, I think. We need to be visible." 

Kootenay said a centre would create space to spread awareness and educate the Cochrane community and tourists alike on the neighbouring First Nations' cultural identity while also acting as a safe haven for Indigenous peoples living off the reserve as well. 

"Our reservation is right on the edge of the town of Cochrane and it's always been like that," he said in regards to the lack of shared space. "How come there hasn't been any efforts made like this before?" 

Kootenay said due to the geographical borders shared between Cochrane and Morley, a strong relationship should already exist. 

"There should be a process where the town can call upon Stoney elders for guidance and be included on decisions," he said. 

Engdahl said the club has been in talks with the Town of Cochrane regarding some sort of shared space for a while now, and as budget deliberations are underway, she's hopeful some of the requests they made will be considered. 

"Cochrane is behind" she said. "It's embarrassing quite frankly. We're behind in our Indigenous relationship building." 

Elder Fox said now is the time to build something like this. 

"There is interest in the community now and with the findings of the first 215 graves at a residential school, that opened the eyes of a lot of Canadian people," she said, noting that number has since grown into the thousands. "We have been saying all along that children were dying at residential schools.

"There is interest now in First Nations people and their stories," she said. "Ears and eyes are being opened. We need to build on that so we can forge a way to build a long-lasting relationship with ourselves, the Town of Cochrane and the 5,000 other First Nations people in the town that we don't see." 

The centre itself, at least from Kootenay's perspective, would be a multipurpose, multi-skill, multi-knowledgeable centre focused on helping everyone in all departments while building bridges. 

"It'd be a place where lots can happen and any possibility is really possible because we have a lot of strong personalities with varying skill levels," he said.

"We can't really say exactly what it's going to look like because we include everyone's voices and build it together." 

In the name of fundraising and spreading Christmas cheer, the Cochrane Rotary Club is inviting residents to tune into Tom Jackson’s Huron Carole Special on Dec. 19 at 6:45 p.m. 

The Huron Carole Special has toured the country for more than three decades, but, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, concertgoers will once again be couch-bound this year. 

“Enjoy Christmas classics, road stories, fables, original music and dad jokes that can only be delivered by Tom Jackson,” the event page reads. 

Jackson will be joined on your Zoom screen by band lead Tom McKillip and musicians Phil Hall, John Thiel, Keith Floen and drummer Joe McIntyre. Joining this year is blues vocalist Samantha King. 

Tickets for the online event start at $25 for one screen.

For businesses interested in sponsoring a viewing for corporate viewing parties or for local organizations, such as the Bethany Care Society, contact the local Rotary via the cochranehuroncarole.com website. 

To get involved and support the initiative, Engdahl said share the poster, share the website, invite your family and friends to watch the holiday special and donate. 

A 50/50 raffle will be underway starting soon, too, she said. Stay tuned to the Rotary Club of Cochrane's social media channels for more details.