What does reconciliation look like in Yellowknife? Residents meet to discuss issue

It could take many forms, including addictions support, better education, or the creation of a sacred space downtown.

Former Kugluktuk mayor cautions against paying 'lip service' to the problem

Yellowknifers gathered at the Quality Inn Thursday to tell the city what their vision is for reconciliation. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

Indigenous reconciliation in Yellowknife could take many forms, including addictions support, better education, or the creation of a sacred space downtown.

These are just a few ideas about 40 residents kicked around at the Quality Inn Thursday evening during a municipal event to canvass ideas for what should be included in Yellowknife's Reconciliation Action Plan.

"Tonight was the conversation starter. Meeting each other, listening to each other," said Maggie Mercredi, Indigenous relations adviser for the city. 

A five-person panel kicked off the event, which was moderated by former Truth and Reconciliation commissioner Marie Wilson.

Michelle Miller, an Inuk and Métis woman on the panel, called for nuanced education for newcomers and tourists that both acknowledges Canada's fraught relationship with Indigenous people and celebrates their resilience in the face of colonization.

Everybody had the chance to provide input when they broke into smaller groups. Some of the ideas to come out of this session were improved Indigenous hiring, in-territory treatment options, and the creation of a safe and sacred space — perhaps in Somba K'e Civic Plaza.

The groups also asked for more intercultural events, recognition of official Indigenous languages and the renaming of streets or a monument. 

Angelique Ruzindana Umunyana, right, says teaching newcomers about Canada's history is critical. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

Racism the 'elephant in the room' 

One of the group presenters told the room there is still a "strong feeling of entrenched racism within Yellowknife" that needs to be acknowledged. 

Wilson agreed, calling racism the "elephant in the room."

Mercredi said she knows racism is still "rampant" in the city and this fact isn't something many people are comfortable discussing.

"Being visibly Indigenous myself, it's like I feel it … every day," she said.

Mercredi says there are ways to create a more welcoming environment for Indigenous people in all city programs and services, whether it be paying a parking ticket, going to the pool, library or skating rink.

Ernie Bernhardt listens on as panelist Roxane Landry says the North needs dedicated healing spaces to address mental-health issues created by colonization. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

'No lip service,' please

Ernie Bernhardt, a former Kugluktuk mayor and MLA who spent much of his youth in residential school in Aklavik, thanked the city for acknowledging that many of its residents are survivors, but cautioned against simply giving "lip service" to reconciliation.

Bernhardt arrived in Yellowknife when he was 15, and had his first grapefruit at Akaitcho Hall. 

To him, Yellowknife is a city that "grew too fast" and left people behind. People are still arriving "broke, hungover and hungry" with no place to stay.

"I think you had just about forgot about it until tonight but I want to thank you folks for coming, and I hope we [can] trust you," he said.

City calls for contributions

Sheila Bassi-Kellett, Ernie Bernhardt and Roxane Landry kick off the event with a panel discussion. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

There is no hard and fast deadline for others who want to give input on how the city should work on reconciliation. Anybody can contribute by contacting the city. 

The city also plans to hold meetings in Ndilo and Detah to decide what it will include in its eventual Reconciliation Action Plan

Then, it will organize all the submissions and comments in mid-October, said Sheila Bassi-Kellett, the city's senior administrative officer.

Many of the suggestions could be implemented by the city, but some — such as education and addictions treatment — are territorial or federal responsibilities.

The city will communicate those suggestions to those respective governments, said Bassi-Kellett.