Indigenous

Reconciliation report card: Work remains for cities

Since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its 94 calls to action in 2015, many cities across Canada declared 2016 the ‘year of reconciliation.’

Winnipeg, Vancouver declared 'Year of Reconciliation,' gradually implementing TRC’s calls to action

A First Nations woman sings as part of the ceremony to install the Survivors Totem Pole, a symbol of survival and healing, in Vancouver last November. Vancouver is among several Canadian cities that have committed to implementing calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report. (CBC)

After the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its 94 calls to action in 2015, several cities across Canada declared a "Year of Reconciliation."

The 94 calls to action set a path for ways in which all levels of government can work together at repairing the damage caused by the residential schools system.

Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg are among the cities that have declared their own years focused on beginning reconciliation.

Here's how some of them are doing in their efforts.

Winnipeg

Winnipeg, once dubbed by Maclean's magazine "Canada's most racist city," declared 2016 its Year of Reconciliation —which was received with a mix of praise and criticism.

The declaration also came with a list of promises.

Mayor Brian Bowman vowed there would be a commemorative sign at the former Assiniboia Indian Residential School in Winnipeg and reconciliation activities throughout the year, held in partnership with the Winnipeg Library Services and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation — which operates at the University of Manitoba.

Bowman also said he would visit every high school in Winnipeg within two years to discuss civic engagement, reconciliation and diversity.

Diversity training was also promised for city employees, with a focus on the legacy of residential schools within the year.

To date, the city says 1,078 of 10,253 city employees have completed what it calls "Indigenous awareness training."

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman addresses the media on Jan. 23, 2015, about racism in Winnipeg, backed by prominent community leaders and activists, following a Maclean's magazine article that labelled Winnipeg the most racist city in Canada. (CBC)
In an email statement, Michelle Finley, a communications officer with the City of Winnipeg, said there are two streams of courses employees can take.

Supervisors are required to take a two-day training course on topics such as Indigenous history, the impacts and legacy of residential schools, and traditional and contemporary roles of Indigenous women.

All other employees are required to take a half-day course with an introduction to Indigenous world views and residential schools.

Both courses are taught by members of the Indigenous community, and according to the city, residential school survivors are involved in the delivery of the training of both courses.

Throughout the year, the city — in partnership with Winnipeg public libraries and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation — hosted events such as language programs, elder's teachings and Indigenous-themed stories and film series.

To date, Bowman has visited 22 of the 62 high schools in Winnipeg, the city said.

But those who attended the former Assiniboia Indian Residential School — which operated from 1958 until 1973, according to the Manitoba Historical Society — are still waiting for a commemorative sign.

A joint committee between the city, the National Research Centre, the University of Manitoba and survivors is still working together to get this project underway.

"We want some kind of permanent marker on the site," said Ted Fontaine, a residential school survivor who is part of the committee.

"We just don't want plywood signs."
Hundreds march through downtown Winnipeg in June 2015 demanding action after the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. (Chris Glover/CBC)

A city planner has been part of the committee but Bowman has yet to attend a meeting, says Fontaine.

"If [Bowman] wants to put up the cost for that, that would be fabulous," Fontaine said.

The joint committee is waiting to hear whether Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada will allow a commemorative marker, because the building that housed the school is still partially owned by the federal government.

Maeengan Linklater, a Winnipeg community volunteer, says generally there's been a movement toward reconciliation across Canada.

But he says there's still a long way to go, especially when it comes to lifting Indigenous families out of poverty and for families to once again teach one another about language and culture.

Although it might be slow going for the grassroots community, Linklater says he remains optimistic about the future of the city of Winnipeg. He notes decades of work by Indigenous programs and services offered for urban Indigenous people by the people themselves.   

Vancouver

Vancouver recently released its own "City of Reconciliation" report on its website.

The city proclaimed its Year of Reconciliation from June 2013 to June 2014. It is now in its second full year as a city of reconciliation.

The city identified 27 out of the 94 TRC's calls to action to specifically follow through on, such as "providing cultural competency and capacity training for City staff, including mandatory aboriginal cultural competency training for all Vancouver Police Department staff," according to the city's website.

In 2016, the city also appointed its first manager of Aboriginal relations, Ginger Gosnell-Myers.

Vancouver appointed Ginger Gosnell-Myers as its first Aboriginal relations manager in 2016. (CBC)
But so far, of 4,475 regular full-time employees with the city of Vancouver, not including the Vancouver Police Department or the Vancouver Public Library, only 700 have completed the cultural competency training.

Sioux Lookout, Ont.

It's not just big cities that are taking on reconciliation.

Recently the town of Sioux Lookout, Ont. — with a population of around 5,000 — proclaimed 2017 its own Year of Reconciliation.

Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance said the town will do what it can to honour the TRC's 94 calls to action.

The mayor's committee on Truth and Reconciliation will work with neighbouring First Nations communities such as Lac Seul First Nation to plan events throughout the year.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Originally from Obishikokaang (Lac Seul First Nation) located in northwestern Ontario, Martha Troian is an investigative journalist who frequently contributes to CBC News, including work on the multiple award-winning and ongoing Missing & Murdered: The Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls. Follow her @ozhibiiige

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