City mak­ing progress with rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, SACPA told

But more work must be done

Lethbridge Herald - - HOMETOWN NEWS - Fol­low @Melis­saVHer­ald on Twit­ter Melissa Vil­leneuve mvil­leneuve@leth­bridge­herald.com

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.”

Her­ald photo by Ian Martens

Roy Po­gorzel­ski speaks dur­ing the weekly meet­ing of the South­ern Al­berta Coun­cil on Pub­lic Af­fairs. @IMarten­sHer­ald

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