City making progress with reconciliation, SACPA told
But more work must be done
What does reconciliation mean and is the City of Lethbridge doing enough to make amends?
This was the topic of Thursday’s SACPA session, presented by Roy Pogorzelski, a traditional Métis from Saskatchewan and director for the Iikaisskini (Low Horn) FNMI Gathering Place at University of Lethbridge.
In December 2015, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its 94 “Calls to Action,” calling on all forms of government to begin the process of reconciliation. The Lethbridge Indigenous Sharing Network was established to start discussing urban indigenous issues in Lethbridge.
Last year, a reconciliation subcommittee collaborated with Lethbridge city council and administration and consulted with Elders from the Blackfoot Confederacy to come up with a plan.
“One of the biggest things they realized in that plan, and that everyone talked about, was the need for reconciliation,” said Pogorzelski, who co-chaired the subcommittee with Amanda Scout. “One of the things we were able to accomplish with that was to gather together and talk about what gaps were in the community for Indigenous people. The other part was calls to action, putting them in there and working with city management and council.”
In June, Lethbridge city council unanimously approved the 10-year Community Reconciliation Implementation Plan, designed to put into motion the actions needed to bring awareness and promote healing.
“We’re the first municipality throughout the country to have a concrete plan to move forward, to look at calls to action that are actually embedded in this plan,” said Pogorzelski. It has now served as a model for other communities who wish to develop their own reconciliation plans, he said. And the plan is a fluid document that the community can ask questions about and provide suggestions for inclusion.
Now that the plan is in place, the work begins.
“We’re moving beyond just symbolism. We’re moving beyond just the terminology. And we’re moving forward into some action,” he said.
Pogorzelski spoke about his own experiences with racism growing up. But it wasn’t until he began university that he learned about residential schools and their impact on Indigenous people, including his mother and grandmother. The more he learned, the angrier he got. But he chose to channel that anger into creating a force for change.
Pogorzelski said he’s often asked what Indigenous people want when it comes to reconciliation. But “Indigenous people” is a pretty big umbrella, and a term for a lot of “different diverse people.” There are over 600 First Nations across Canada, over 400,000 Métis and over 45,000 Inuit in the North from 53 different communities, he explained.
“Reconciliation for one community could mean wildly different things for another community,” he said. “So those generalizations have to stop in this process. These are individuals reconciling together, and that’s one thing we tried to break down in our process.”
Lived experience plays a factor in reconciliation, and everyone’s lived experience is different, he continued. Which is why it’s important to listen, to acknowledge it and validate it.
“The healing can begin because people have shared what happened to them and their stories.”
Identity plays a big role as well. One of the things Indigenous people struggle with, that non-Indigenous do not face, is their identities have been controlled by policies by the government, said Pogorzelski.
“Until as a society we can get down to the subjective part of our identities and allow people to identify as who they want to be or identify as, reconciliation is going to be tough,” he said. “Because we’re going to continue to pre-judge people, assume things about people, and when we continue to do that, reconciliation is just not possible because we go back into the same process of judging, of stereotyping, of biasing people, and that is not reconciliation. Reconciliation is truly about building relationships.”
The process of reconciliation is so big, and it has come from many different directions. But it’s all valuable information as the committee advances the community plan, he said, and it’s about “starting the dialogue.”
Reconciliation Week is only one part of the plan. Calls to action they will focus on include: Jordan’s Principle; looking into Indigenous child welfare; identifying sacred sites and working with neighbouring Kainai and Piikani communities before land development; following recommendations of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; providing updates to the National Council for Reconciliation; and professional development for City staff.
If effective, reconciliation will improve relationships and Pogorzelski said he can see the change already within our community. It can also work to dissolve systemic racism, and remove barriers and increase access to society “so that Indigenous people can participate fully — Métis, First Nations, Inuit — in our community,” said Pogorzelski. But there is still a very long way to go.
“We have a lot of work to do, but it’s also just a really great opportunity for our city to have this week, and to have this document in place and to have the education around it.”
Roy Pogorzelski speaks during the weekly meeting of the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs. @IMartensHerald