It’s time for St. Albertans to own up to a dark period in our past and do something about it.
There are many facets to reconciling with our Indigenous neighbours. Some need to embrace reconciliation on a personal level. Then there’s the work that needs to be done by Canada’s various levels of government – municipal, provincial and federal.
In the words of Mayor Cathy Heron: “All Canadians must come to terms with the legacy of colonialism.”
It’s a tough task, but an important one. While some of us have a long way to go, others – like the City of St. Albert and its municipal leaders – are in the midst of taking on that task.
The city began its formal journey toward reconciliation last month through Payhonin and hopes to bring residents along for the journey. The city describes the initiative as its commitment to restoring balance to its relationship with Indigenous peoples. It’s also the city’s way of beginning to answer the Calls to Action put forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which reviewed how residential schooling impacted seven generations of Indigenous children.
Payhonin talks began toward the end of April in an effort to get people thinking about the city’s past and future relationship with Indigenous peoples.
Those uneducated among us may believe Indigenous people need to “get over it,” or may try to tout the good things that came from residential schools.
Last week, residents had the opportunity to join city consultant Leo Jacobs in his trapper’s tent for a tea-time conversation about history and Indigenous relations. During that time, Shelly Markowski spoke about how her mother – and their family as a result – suffered from residential schooling: it’s not as simple as just getting over it, she said.
But that callous attitude still exists. One need look no further than Lynn Beyak, recently suspended from the Canadian Senate following her refusal to remove offensive letters from her official website, some of which perpetuated racist stereotypes or tried to paint residential schools in a positive light.
This type of whitewashing of Canadian history is not limited to Beyak, nor is it limited to the people whose letters she posted. It can be found across Canada – and yes, even in St. Albert.
But regardless of where residents stand on the matter of reconciliation, there is something they can learn through Payhonin – be it hearing first-hand experiences of how residential schooling impacted Indigenous families or weighing in on how to move forward.
For those who missed the tea and talking circles of the past week, the city is also holding focus groups, with the next one taking place Thursday at the Musée Heritage Museum from 6 to 8 p.m.
These efforts to engage residents will hopefully lead to a more educated public, and participation is something we should take advantage of. Words matter, as does action. The city and its leaders are forging ahead – it’s up to the rest of us to follow.