On June 21, Summer Solstice, the first day of summer, and National Aboriginal Day, I took my daughter down to Victoria Park to participate in the celebration. I wanted her to experience her first Aboriginal Day, to listen to the drumming and bounce to the rhythm in the round dance. Among busloads of school children from all walks of life, we joined hands and set the record for the largest round dance in sync with other cities.
Our city, also known in Cree as Amiskwaciwâskahikan (ᐊᒥᐢᑲᐧᒋᐋᐧᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ), or Beaver Hills House, is in Treaty 6 Territory. We have the second largest urban Indigenous population in the country. We also have large and well-established communities representing many cultures and ethnicities from around the world. According to the 2016 census, 26% of newcomers to our city come from outside of Canada. This reflects Canadian Multiculturalism Day on Tuesday June 27.This diversity is a source of prosperity and quality of life. It is a strength that needs to be celebrated and built upon.
At the 2014 Truth and Reconciliation Conference, Mayor Iveson declared it the year of reconciliation. But the work of reconciliation is not limited to one year; it is ongoing. Relationships in our communities can deepen, and cultures cross.
My own journey of working with Indigenous communities has prompted me to constantly think about my role as an outsider, a transplant, what I bring and what I take away. I have worked with Indigenous communities in North America for most of my professional life.
If elected to City Council, I will dedicate myself to the ongoing work of reconciliation, and to facilitate relationship building between Edmonton’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and communities. I will take an approach that combines listening to the perspectives of Edmonton’s Indigenous individuals and communities, combating racism, creating opportunities for education and understanding, and combating racism.
Here are a few ideas:
• The City could dedicate funding to support educational resources at a community level, led by the Indigenous Relations Office. The first steps towards reconciliation are education, understanding and accepting the truth. The relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people today does not happen in a vacuum but is a result of hundreds of years of colonialism, occupation, and oppression. Understanding this often starts with education. For example, the public school system has a terrific First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Education program for students and teachers, providing Edu-kits for schools to teach about Indigenous history and culture. These kits could also be made available to Edmonton communities, including community leagues
• The City should do more to promote positive relationship building between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. For example, launching a public awareness campaign on dispelling myths and stereotypes like this one from Lethbridge would be an important step towards education and combatting racism and discrimination.
• The City should publicly acknowledge the important contributions and history of Indigenous peoples. Support for Indigenous arts especially in public spaces would be a critical symbolic way for awareness and relationship building. For example, given the Papaschase First Nations roots and history in Mill Woods, stops along the future Valley Line LRT could showcase Indigenous artists or community and school art about reconciliation.
My work with Indigenous communities has taken me from the rural Navajo Nation in New Mexico where I taught middle school science, to the urban centre of Montreal where I ran an Aboriginal youth centre, to a northern community where I worked as a facilitator with youth to promote physical activity. In Edmonton, I connected with the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women and assisted with its leadership training for girls and young women. My greatest learning from these experiences is the importance of humility, trust, and relationship building, of perpetually listening and learning from others. I apply these same principles in building ties with any community I work with, and will continue to do so as an elected official. That’s how politics should be, grassroots, honest, and truthful.