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Westlock-area municipalities to discuss Indigenous event

Westlock County councillors stop short of issuing Treaty 6 land acknowledgement
WES - County office Oct 2021 IMG-9067

WESTLOCK – Westlock County councillors will meet with their contemporaries from the town and village to discuss an event to honour Indigenous peoples or erect a flagpole to fly a Treaty 6 flag but stopped short of making it policy to recite a land acknowledgement to open all future municipal meetings.

Following 40 minutes of debate at their May 17 governance and priorities meeting, councillors voted 4-3 to discuss both topics at the next tri-council meeting (date to be determined) that will include Town of Westlock and Village of Clyde councillors — deputy reeve Ray Marquette and councillors Francis Cloutier and Stuart Fox-Robinson voted in opposition.

Reeve Christine Wiese had asked administration to investigate ways in which the county could acknowledge the Indigenous people and the lands of Treaty 6 following a May 6 cultural sensitivity training workshop at Memorial Hall that included staff and politicians from the three municipalities.

Wiese, who said it was “disappointing that more of us didn’t go” as only herself and two county staffers attended, called the event “powerful” and “eye opening.” The workshop was led by Kori-Leigh Arcand from the Kipohtakaw First Nation and focused on “awareness of Indigenous history, culture and customs specific to Treaty 6 as well as applying that awareness to your organization’s mandate.”

The session, which counted six attendees from the town and five from the village, also highlighted the different Indigenous groups within Treaty 6, particularly surrounding Westlock and Clyde and their history. The event also included an introductory overview of Indian Residential Schools, the Sixties Scoop, treaties and inherent rights, First Nations governance, the Indian Act, respectful protocol and allyship. Ultimately, the workshop aimed to “develop and plan best practice engagement strategies with surrounding Indigenous communities” and assist the municipalities “with applying cultural awareness to everyday operations.”

“It was very moving, and a very powerful workshop and I feel that Westlock County as a county saying that we care for our residents and there are many residents who are First Nations and to not have any kind of acknowledgement … I feel it’s something we can do. It’s a small gesture and maybe a start towards making bigger gestures,” said Wiese.

“A lot more came out of it I think for us that I think we were expecting and a lot more information that I didn’t even recognize or consider. It was very moving.”

Coun. Isaac Skuban, who made the motion to take the discussion to tri-council, said it would be a “good thing to bring people together and learn about our heritage” and an event would held do that. He added that he’s “completely on board with reconciliation” but as University of Alberta student he sees a “a lot of talk and no action” — all U of A conferences and public events held on campus are opened with an acknowledgment, while professors can recite one during the first class of a semester.

“The action should come first … actions speak louder than words. Let’s try to do something constructive and if we’re going to have land acknowledgements or things like that let’s not do them just for the sake of doing them. Let’s actually have a good concrete reason from the federation themselves,” he said. “I think we’re heading in the right direction. I think for us as a council, it’s steps. And as a region I think this could be something very positive.”

A further motion that would have seen county administration contact the Treaty 6 Confederation to open discussions didn’t go to a vote, with Skuban saying he’d be prepared to make it if and when there’s consensus and a concrete plan between the three councils. In the briefing to county council, administration said “early figures” suggest it’ll cost $5,000 to erect a flagpole.

No land acknowledgement

Councillors went silent about a possible motion to direct administration to craft a land acknowledgement, with Fox-Robinson saying they were “jumping the gun” and “going about this totally the wrong way” while Marquette said the moment of reflection at the beginning of every meeting should suffice.

Indigenous land acknowledgments have become common since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 calls to action were released in 2015, urging all levels of government to change policies and programs in an effort to repair the harm caused by residential schools and move forward with reconciliation. Interim CAO Pat Vincent, who told council he’s Métis and that his father attended a residential school, said a land acknowledgement is a “a step in the process of reconciliation” and a “sentiment of those people who want to take the steps (towards healing) together.”

Locally, both the Aspen View and Pembina Hills school divisions cite land acknowledgements before meetings, significant special events and professional development days — teachers also have the option of reading the acknowledgement on the first day of school. The Town of Westlock began the practice of a land acknowledgement for all council, committee of the whole and tri-council meetings last September to dovetail with the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation held Sept. 30, 2021 — their statement is: “The Town of Westlock acknowledges the traditional land on which we are headquartered is in Treaty 6 territory. We honour and respect the diverse status and non-status Indigenous people who call this territory home such as the Métis, the Cree and Woodland Cree peoples.”

The towns and counties of Barrhead and Athabasca, as well as the Village of Boyle, do not have land acknowledgements, although the Town of Athabasca and Village of Clyde are currently in the process of crafting one.

“No disrespect is intended by this, but I don’t need (an acknowledgement) to come from administration, I need it to come from the Confederation of Treaty 6. We are jumping the gun on this and moving in a direction that I don’t feel is right and I don’t feel that this conversation is really representing the people who we are here to represent. I think there’s a much broader conversation to be had, I really do,” said Fox-Robinson.

Marquette recommended that councillors “should do a little homework” and “phone 20 residents in their area and see what their opinions are” as “that’s whose money we’re spending.”

“I think that’s an interesting concept, but the sample size is then 140 people out of 7,000,” countered Fox-Robinson.

George Blais, TownandCountryToday.com



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