Calgary reconciliation efforts guided by White Goose Flying

A little-known city report spells out the city's response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It recommends ways the city can help repair the relationship with southern Alberta's Indigenous people.

Treaty 7 flag will fly at city hall in 2017, historic bridge to be re-named

Jack White Goose Flying died in 1899 at the age of 17 while at St. Dunstan's residential school in Calgary. His remains were re-interred at Queen's Park Cemetery in 1971. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

It's the city report that had little profile in 2016 and consequently, generated even less discussion.

But it's a report you'll be hearing more about in 2017, and in the years ahead.

Its shorthand name around city hall is White Goose Flying. 

The document is Calgary's response to the final report of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The panel came up with 94 recommendations on how Canada can move from apology to action in repairing the relationship with Canada's Indigenous people.

The commission itself was part of the federal commitment to examine the painful legacy of the residential school system.

City council asked the Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs committee (CAUAC) to examine how the city should respond to the TRC report.

The result is the White Goose Flying report, which was completed last May.

Boy's death little-known part of Calgary history

The report is named for Jack White Goose Flying, a 17-year-old youth from the Piikani Nation who attended the St. Dunstan's residential school in Calgary.

He died of tuberculosis in 1899 and was buried on a hill overlooking the school.

Other children fell ill while at the school, but they were sent home. White Goose Flying was the only child who died while at St. Dunstan's.

As Calgary grew, development crept towards the lone gravesite. In 1971, the city moved his remains and they were re-interred at Queen's Park Cemetery. A headstone marks that spot today.

It's a little-known chapter in the history Calgary shares with its Treaty 7 neighbours.

Path to build new relationship

The youth's story is recounted as an example the city can use to find a path forward as it seeks to build a new relationship with Indigenous people.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi knows a lot about Calgary, but admits until this report came out, he did not realize there was a residential school in southeast Calgary from 1896 to 1907. And he did not know the story of White Goose Flying.

But Nenshi considers the city's decision to move and re-bury the remains to be a fitting analogy for the road ahead to reconciliation.

"There's something very Calgary about that. Something horrible happened, but as a community we came together and tried to bring dignity to this awful story," said Nenshi.

"It's a good analogy for what we're doing now: acknowledging the past but moving forward in a way that gives people dignity."

City council backs report

One of the report's recommended actions has already been approved by city council.

A new flagpole will soon go up at city hall to display the Treaty 7 flag. The report states that flags signify political recognition, so doing this will be an important symbol to the Treaty 7 nations — to see their flag flying alongside those of Canada, Alberta, the U.K. and the city's colours.

The upcoming year will also see action on another symbolic recommendation from the report.

City bridge to be re-named

A city bridge, named after one of the architects of the residential school system, will get a new name.

The Langevin bridge has spanned the Bow River downtown since 1910. It was named for Hector-Louis Langevin, one of the Fathers of Confederation.

As the report notes, he was also someone who promoted the outdated notion that Canada's Indigenous peoples needed to be assimilated and the best way to do that was to separate young people from their families.

Evelyn Good Striker is the chair of the Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs committee, which developed the White Goose Flying report. She said renaming the bridge is critical to the city's reconciliation efforts.

"People will come to know who Langevin really was and they will learn some history. It's pretty damaging what he promoted," said Good Striker.

The city is not commenting on the bridge issue, as council has not yet discussed it.

But two well-placed sources tell CBC News the city will follow up on the recommended action in the White Goose Flying report and a new name is an important element of the city's reconciliation effort.

Report actions touch many parts of city operations

The report also calls for:

  • All city staff to be learn about residential schools and to be trained on reconciliation issues.
  • For the city to acknowledge and respect Indigenous archeological sites.
  • To recognize the contributions of Indigenous athletes and include Indigenous people when bidding for sporting events.
  • The city provide appropriate spaces for Indigenous cultural ceremonies.

Calgary isn't the only municipality working on these issues. There have been recent controversies about local responses to the TRC report.

In Edmonton, a city councillor suggested his city find Indigenous names for streets and communities that are easier to spell and pronounce. 

In Winnipeg, a city councillor questioned the need to train all city employees on reconciliation issues. 

Calgary's mayor said these types of issues are part and parcel of the move towards reconciliation.

"We're going to make mistakes here and there. Naheed Nenshi is also hard to pronounce, but people figure that out. Shaganappi is probably hard to pronounce for people who aren't from around here," said Nenshi.

"We're going to see some stumbling around. That's ok. We're family and that's how families deal with one another. They have conversations openly about what they're willing to do and what will be difficult and they do the hard stuff."

Changes expected to result in 'fair treatment'

City council approved of the recommendations in the report. Delivering on them means one thing to Good Striker.

"I think it would mean fair treatment," she said. "A lot of our people want to work and raise their families in a healthy way."

She said the work on reconciliation will help Indigenous people in many ways and she's looking forward to more of the recommended actions in the White Goose Flying report becoming a reality.