Calgary councillors look at next steps in response to Truth and Reconciliation Commission report

The City of Calgary may boost the budget for its Indigenous relations office after council's priorities and finance committee heard recommendations to better meet calls to action outlined in the city's White Goose Flying report.

Budget, transparency and education among areas to be improved, presenters say

The Treaty 7 flag flies permanently alongside the flags of Calgary, Alberta, Canada and the United Kingdom at City Hall. (Scott Dippel/CBC )

The City of Calgary may boost the budget for its Indigenous relations office after a council committee heard recommendations to better meet calls to action outlined in the city's White Goose Flying report.

The White Goose Flying report, which was completed in May 2016, is Calgary's response to the final report of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that made 94 recommendations on how Canada can move from apology to action in repairing the relationship with Indigenous people.

On Tuesday, the priorities and finance committee heard from Justin Jimmy, the chair of the Calgary aboriginal urban affairs committee, and Terry Poucette, the head of the city's Indigenous relations team, who said some progress has been made on several reconciliation milestones identified in the report.

Examples included flying the Treaty 7 flag outside of City Hall, as well as displaying the flags of Treaty 7 nations inside the council chamber; an agreement to create an Indigenous gathering place in Calgary; and establishing the Indigenous relations office (IRO).

The report is named for Jack White Goose Flying, who 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)

However, three recommendations were made as next steps: increase the budget for the IRO, enhance transparency with annual progress reports on TRC calls to action for Calgarians, and prioritize the importance of educating the public and city staff about Indigenous issues.

Jimmy emphasized the latter, saying the recent discovery of what are believed to be the unmarked burial sites of children's remains adjacent to a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. should not have been the catalyst for the renaming of Calgary's Langevin School.

Its namesake, Hector-Louis Langevin, is considered an architect of the residential school system.

"It's saddening to hear of changes that occur as a result of the news that came out," Jimmy said.

"While it's very appreciated that renaming of schools that had a poor past has occurred, one must ask the question: 'Why did it take the discovery of 215 little children?'"

Education, transparency and budgetary requests made 

A $1.1-million budget was green-lit for the establishment of the IRO in 2018, but Poucette said it was reduced by $482,000 in 2019 to meet corporate reduction targets.

Jimmy and Poucette asked that city administration bring forward a request for a budget increase for the IRO through the November 2021 budget deliberations. The motion was approved.

Poucette said training on Indigenous matters and reconciliation is offered to city employees, but she also wants to enhance the curriculum.

"We really need to take an in-depth look at the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action, and develop a strategy that would see a genuine and in-depth implementation … beginning with the comprehensive awareness of city staff," Poucette said.

Part of an art installation outside of Langevin school that was set up by the Change Langevin School Committee earlier this month. (Mike Symington/CBC News)

Coun. Ward Sutherland agreed and said education is critical to understanding the history of Indigenous cultures. He added he would like to see that education become mandatory for city employees.

Sutherland said he would like to see space at City Hall made available to provide information about Treaty 7 and the First Nations in the area, so that when "citizens or visitors are looking around City Hall, that there is a display area … that has that educational component."

Mayor Naheed Nenshi acknowledged that the city had moved forward on many symbolic aspects of reconciliation, but said more tangible steps need to be taken.

"We will have a lot of work to do," Nenshi said. "Our conversations about renaming schools and symbols and stuff are important, but they're empty in the absence of true reconciliation."

Support is available for anyone affected by residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.

With files from Scott Dippel and Lucie Edwardson