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Reconciliation funding pared down

Council committee recommends $5,000 for Indigenous awareness training
St. Albert Place

St. Albert could be putting off formation of an Indigenous committee centred on truth and reconciliation, until council enters a full committee review at the beginning of 2020.

During the inaugural meeting of city council’s community living committee, the committee comprised of three council members and Mayor Cathy Heron reviewed prioritized recommendations coming from a city-led reconciliation effort.

They decided against the recommended motion of immediately putting a full $35,000 toward reconciliation initiatives and will review that again next year. Instead, the committee is recommending council approve $5,000 for Indigenous awareness training for city staff next year.

One local Indigenous man, Ryan Arcand, spoke to the committee and expressed concerns about “throwing money” at reconciliation efforts.

Arcand said from his observations there was strong Métis representation in the reconciliation group that came up with the engagement report, but a noticeable lack of First Nation voices.

“Really? We’re just going to keep throwing money at it, when there’s no inclusion of all three groups (First Nations, Métis and Inuit)?” he said.

Arcand shared a life lesson from his grandmother, that balance is needed in any initiative, otherwise it will remain at a halt.

“One of the strongest things that I was taught by my grandmother is balance,” he said. “If you don’t have balance, well, you have a flat tire and you’re going nowhere. And that’s where it’s all going, so balance it out.”

Arcand suggested a good, inclusive idea for bringing people together would be opening a friendship centre, which could act as a drop-in centre for teens and hold daily functions for all St. Albert residents.

The prioritization of recommendations came forth after city council reviewed a series of 14 recommendations from St. Albert’s Payhonin Reconciliation engagement report in September and had asked administration to come up with a prioritized implementation plan.

Arcand also questioned the meaning of “Payhonin,” which the engagement report says is a Cree word for gathering place.

“We don’t even know – the old Cree speakers – we don’t know what that word means,” he said.

Cart before the horse

St. Albert director of community services Kelly Jerrott said administration tried to be “very conservative” in their estimates of funds required to support the Payhonin recommendations.

Eight of the 14 recommendations can be implemented within existing budgets, but four of them require additional funds to implement, a $35,000 investment. The majority of that is tied to formation of a committee that would spearhead local reconciliation initiatives and help in crafting a detailed reconciliation plan for St. Albert.

Coun. Natalie Joly said she would not recommend council establish an Indigenous advisory committee right now, because council is set to dive into a fulsome committee review in the new year.

“I think it’s putting the cart before the horse a little bit. I am concerned with the amount of resignations we’ve had on committees this year,” Joly said. “It’s pretty overwhelming the resignations we’ve gotten over the last few months, and I don’t want to see that happen to this committee.”

Additionally, the committee passed a motion for administration to review city council’s inclusivity declaration to see about incorporating truth and reconciliation elements.

On Sept. 16, city council adopted six of the 14 recommendations in the engagement report that could immediately be tackled.

Two new flag poles, one each for the Métis and Treaty 6 flags, are being brought forward as capital projects totalling $12,400 in the city’s proposed 2020 budget.

Hannah Lawson

About the Author: Hannah Lawson

Hannah Lawson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2019 after working as editor of the Athabasca Advocate. She writes about city hall.
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