Calgary has made some important steps towards reconciliation with its Indigenous community, and the push for better support needs to come from inside city council, said a former councillor.
Earlier this year Brian Pincott, while sitting on city council, proposed that Calgary should create an Indigenous relations office that would create Indigenous support for every matter the city faces.
The city has an Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee but only has one Indigenous person who deals with Indigenous matters.
“I’m hopeful that they will [accept it] because we desperately need that, but it is not certain that we will at this point,” Pincott said.
Council unanimously approved this motion, but Pincott said it is now up to the newly elected council to make it happen. City councillors are currently considering their budget options for next year, which will impact the proposed Indigenous relations office.
“It shouldn't be just representation that reflects the population. If four per cent of Calgary’s population is Indigenous, that doesn't mean four per cent of the representation should be Indigenous.” - Liam Haggarty
Though the city has made some important symbolic moves such as renaming Langevin Bridge and flying the Treaty 7 flag, Pincott said he would like to see “some real work on the ground.” He added that Indigenous people need to be viewed as valued members of society and implementing an Indigenous relations office would help change the attitudes towards Indigenous people.
“They’re viewed as a troubled community [and] that we have to intervene for them, which is a colonial attitude. It doesn't serve anybody,” said Pincott.
Liam Haggarty, an associate professor and co-director of the office of academic Indigenization at Mount Royal University, said since Calgary is sitting on Indigenous lands, all governments should develop deep engagement and seek meaningful representation with Indigenous people.
“It shouldn't be just representation that reflects the population,” Haggarty said. “If four per cent of Calgary’s population is Indigenous, that doesn't mean four per cent of the representation should be Indigenous.”
Haggarty added that every decision city council makes deeply impacts the Indigenous population.
Tim Kenny, a student at Mount Royal University, said there are still a lot of racist and stereotypical attitudes towards Indigenous people and it shows how the city needs to put in a greater effort towards supporting the Indigenous community.
“You see it everywhere, especially how Indigenous people are treated in the streets,” Kenny said.
He said changing the name of the Langevin Bridge to the Reconciliation Bridge is a great idea, but the city is not doing a good job at explaining the significance.
“The average Calgarian is getting a one-sentence explanation from the mainstream media about why the name has been changed, [but] the City of Calgary has to do a better job on explaining why it is important to change that bridge,” Kenny said.
Langevin Bridge was named after a Hector-Louis Langevin, who played a key role in creating the residential school system as the minister of public works in the early 1880s. Residential schools were a huge part in the colonizing efforts the country made against the Indigenous people of Canada.
“I don’t think we can just name things ‘Reconciliation’ and congratulate ourselves for doing the work." - Liam Haggarty
“I think the city can do a better job at giving traditional names back to streets and places,” Kenny added.
Haggarty said removing or replacing the colonial names that represent violence, genocide and trauma are important because historically, Western society has tried to erase Indigenous people and culture.
“We’re indebted as a nation to the Indigenous nations whose lands provide for our sustenance and our wealth,” he added.
Regarding the renaming of the Langevin Bridge, Haggarty said choosing an Indigenous name or word that is meaningful to the crossing over the Bow River would have been a better example of reconciliation.
“I don’t think we can just name things ‘Reconciliation’ and congratulate ourselves for doing the work,” Haggarty said.
He adds that a better act of reconciliation would be to Indigenize the place, the landmark and the meaning that is attached to it, by considering the traditional lands the Reconciliation Bridge sits on.
Signs on the bridge linking Memorial Drive to the downtown core still say Langevin Bridge. Pincott said a ceremony to change the signs should take place in the New Year.
Indigenous activist Michelle Robinson, who ran for city council in the October election, said that in order to see change in the city, men and women serving the public need to be aware of Indigenous issues.
“That’s why it is important we get Indigenous voices at the table,” Robinson said.
The White Goose Flying report highlights 47 of the 94 calls to action that the city could physically accomplish.
“I know I changed the game so that people are aware of the White Goose Flying report, so that is the win,” Robinson added.
As an Indigenous person, she said participating in a colonial structure, like an election, is challenging but building bridges is important.
She sees “huge policy gaps when it comes to Indigenous issues,” and says there is no intergenerational trauma lens, no concept of residential schools when dealing with city politics.
Robinson adds that the White Goose Flying report is a very small bridge in a bigger picture.
Since creating the report and its implementation into city council meetings, Pincott said there has been more effort around planning events and better consultations with elders of the Treaty 7 community.
However, Pincott said it’s been done in a “settler” way.
“We have a way of saying, ‘Well, we need to call the elders,’ and phone the ‘elder on call,’ and say, ‘Great we consulted with the elders.’”
He added that consultations is a step in the right direction, but it is not actually engaging the Indigenous community.
“You have to recognize that the [Indigenous] system and values can be and often are different,” Pincott said.
“I just know that my life has been far better than my mother’s, whose life has been better than my grandmother's, and I want to make my daughter's life better than what I am experiencing,” - Michelle Robinson
Kenny agreed and added governments need to stop deciding Indigenous peoples’ fate and instead give them an equal voice during the decision making process.
“We have to go back and look at the way Indigenous people govern themselves and make decisions within their community and incorporate that framework into the structure,” he said.
Haggarty said that in order to realize what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is asking the country to do to repair the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, is to go beyond just talking about it.
“We would need to engage, in much more meaningful ways, Indigenous systems of knowledge, belief and culture, and that includes the renaming of things,” he said.
Robinson said it is very difficult for Indigenous people living in the moment to see the changes that have happened and the change that can happen.
“I just know that my life has been far better than my mother’s, whose life has been better than my grandmother's, and I want to make my daughter's life better than what I am experiencing,” Robinson said.
She continued to say that Indigenous people think in generational ways and that is how they should keep thinking.
“We have to be part of the solution in this generation the best way we can, and although it may not feel like it, it is getting better.”
- By Tawnya Plain Eagle