Capital should honour aboriginals, NCC says
New plan for capital to better reflect influence of First Nations on region
First Nations’ historic role needs to be told, says CEO Marie Lemay,
The chief executive of the National Capital Commission says aboriginal people deserve proper representation in Ottawa, and the new plan for the capital will see to it.
Marie Lemay told The Citizen that she sympathizes with aboriginal leaders who com- plain about the lack of recognition for First Nations, despite their historic role in the national capital region. She promises that their concerns will be addressed when the final blueprint is drawn up.
“One of the things we’ve been talking about is that the capital needs to tell the story of Canadians, and that in- cludes aboriginal people,” Lemay said. “When we come back and start looking at the plan, that will be an absolutely important component, especially when we are talking representation. Maybe we will be able to do a lot of things that will make a difference.”
At an Ottawa Aboriginal Peoples Dialogue sever- al weeks ago, native leaders said it was unacceptable that monuments celebrating Canada’s English and French heritage could be found everywhere in the capital, but no statue, park or street recognized First Nation people.
They were critical of what they perceive to be deliberate neglect of Algonquin culture and heritage. They see it as a deliberate attempt to make aboriginals invisible in their ancestral land.
The suggestions from the aboriginal gathering included demands that key landmarks recognize the Anishinabeg ancestral territory in the national capital region; an avenue or garden of flags be created as a representation of First Nations, Metis and Inuit symbols; the completion of the long-proposed Aboriginal Centre on Victoria Island, and the erection of monuments or commemorations to highlight the aboriginal contribution to Canada’s history.
In particular, many wanted a landmark such as Victoria Island, Jacques Cartier Park or Wellington Street named after the late Algonquin spiritual leader William Commanda.
Lemay said one of the aims of the dialogue initiated by the NCC and consultations held across the country, was to get a sense of what needed to be done and how best to do it. She noted that the NCC often celebrates the aboriginal character of the capital and tries to tell that story through many of its events, programs and celebrations. But there’s no doubt more needs to be done.
“What we are trying to get from that group is, how do we tell that part of the story? Is it through interpretation, events, monuments? How do we do it?” she said.
“We’ve always done it in a certain way, but is it really the best way? What we are saying is ‘tell us if there is a better way.’ ”
But Lemay said that as the ideas from around the country are condensed into a report that will form the basis of a new plan, people should be realistic about their demands because there are limits to what the NCC can do.
The Aboriginal Centre on Victoria Island for instance, has been one of the National Capital Commission’s top priorities for years, but the funding has not been there to match the ambition.
“You have to be realistic about what we can do and cannot do, but let’s have a discussion about what can be done,” she said.