Strathcona County rejects Treaty 6 statement at council meetings

Strathcona County council has rejected a proposal which would have seen the county's presence on traditional Treaty 6 territory acknowledged.

'This could have been a great first step'

Treaty 6 lands span much of central Alberta, including Strathcona County, where council has rejected a plan to have the traditional territory acknowledged during public meetings. (The Confederacy of Treaty 6)

Strathcona County council has rejected a proposal to begin every meeting by acknowledging the county's presence on traditional Treaty 6 territory.

During a Feb. 7 meeting, Coun. Dave Anderson put the idea forward as a motion, which was defeated 5-4.

"It was a little surprising. I felt that it was really important, " Anderson said in an interview Friday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"There has been a push from our federal and provincial governments to acknowledge treaty lands before each meeting as acknowledgement of First Nations people.

"Just based on some of the conversation that happened around the table, certain individuals didn't have enough information."

Anderson, who grew up near a reserve and spent time as a crisis worker in reserve communities such as Maskwacis, said a few words about the region's Indigenous communities would mean a lot.

"I really got a strong base in First Nations community, just a beautiful people. And I just felt that in Strathcona County we had that opportunity to acknowledge those first peoples in Canada and try to build on what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has tried to promote."

'I fail to see how this will build community'

Many council meetings across Alberta start with similar statements. Edmonton adopted the practice two years ago, and Anderson was inspired to follow suit.

But some of his fellow councillors failed to see what purpose the practice would serve.

During the meeting, Coun. Paul Smith suggested that the acknowledgement would put members of the public on unequal footing in council chambers.

"We're here to build community," Smith said. "You need to explain to me why this acknowledgement will help each and every person to be treated equally, regardless of ethnic background, education, financial situation, religion or physical capabilities.

"I fail to see how this will build this kind of community."

County Mayor Roxanne Carr said council has already made progress in recognizing the county's diverse heritage. She suggested that councillors need more information on the history of the region before moving forward.

"We are celebrating our total heritage, and I'm very proud of what this council has done," Carr said.

"I'd like a real picture of this and a way to do our due diligence in reconciliation in this region … but I think it can be done in a slightly different way."

'To me, this feels like lip service, quite literally'

Though she voted in favour of the motion, Coun. Carla Howatt said she was concerned that the practice would accomplish very little in terms of reconciliation.

"To me, this feels like lip service, quite literally," Howatt said."I don't think that we've done anything else when it comes to involving ourselves with the Truth and Reconciliation process that happened. 

"So for us to do this and pat ourselves on the back, and say, 'Yep, we did it,' is not in the spirit of what I believe Coun. Anderson is trying to do here."

Anderson hopes to revisit the motion and "better educate" his fellow politicians on the importance of reconciliation.

"Any small move we can make as a government toward that Truth and Reconciliation process, to acknowledge First Nations people is a good move," Anderson said.  

"Do we need to do more work? Absolutely. But this could have been a great first step."

Resident wades in

Sherwood Park resident Kathleen Brough has sent a letter to mayor and council, asking them to reconsider.

"Because it is an acknowledgement that we are on Treaty 6 land and that there is history here that we know and are aware of and is important to us," Brough said Friday.

"We want to be a part of the conversation in a meaningful way with the communities that are impacted by that treaty."

She said Anderson responded and told her he has been in touch with the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations and will asking them to make a presentation in a future council meeting.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said acknowledging Treaty 6 is a simple but important gesture for city council in its ongoing reconciliation efforts. 

"It's a fact of life that we do live in Treaty 6 territory and it's important to me to acknowledge that at ceremonial functions, including council meetings," said Iveson.

"I respect their independence to make their own decision, but it's not the decision that I've made, certainly for the city of Edmonton."