Skip to content

Panel discusses building Indigenous-municipal relationships

For municipalities trying to strengthen social connections and economic ties with Indigenous communities, there is no one roadmap to reconciliation.
Edmonton Councillor Aaron Paquette, St. Paul Mayor Maureen Miller, Chief Randy Ermineskin, and Okotoks Mayor Tanya Thorn discuss building Indigenous-municipal relationships at the Alberta Municipalities Conference and Trade Show.

For municipalities trying to strengthen social connections and economic ties with Indigenous communities, there is no one roadmap to reconciliation. Before a path forward for her administration could take shape, Okotoks Mayor Tanya Thorn said she had to start by building authentic relationships.

"I wanted a checklist. I wanted to know, okay, if I do this, what does this mean? What am I committed to? And none of that is written down. It's a conversation. It's a relationship. I had to be willing to trust the people that I was working with," Thorn said during a panel discussion at the Alberta Municipalities Conference and Trade Show.

Thorn was joined on the panel by Chief Randy Ermineskin, St. Paul Mayor Maureen Miller, and moderator Edmonton Councillor Aaron Paquette.

"Historically, Indigenous communities were relocated away from municipalities, so they could be culturally and socially isolated," said Edmonton Councillor Aaron Paquette. "But also, so that there wouldn't be economic competition."

These historical divisions still inform relations between Indigenous communities and municipalities, and can even be seen in the name Okotoks, which comes from a Siksikáí’powahsin word based on the story of the big rock west of the town, Thorn said.

"We used to have a historic past that was part of our logo. And our past story didn't have an Indigenous story to it. It was missing. So we're doing a lot of work to try and create a new shared story recognizing our past and going forward with thoughtful, considerate actions," Thorn said.

In June, a traditional Blackfoot-painted lodge was transferred to Thorn, on behalf of the Town of Okotoks, by four Elders from the Blackfoot Confederacy, as a symbol of the Okotoks' commitment to reconciliation. The tipi is also about creating ethical space in the town, and a "space where it was safe for both sides to share," Thorn said.

"I think the biggest impact for me is I'm seeing in our community now is that I'm seeing faces to add events that we have programming that we're offering, even in stores in our community that I haven't seen. They're coming from neighbouring reserves. They're coming because they live in my community, but they haven't ever felt that they're safe to participate. And they haven't seen culture that resonates. And so all of a sudden, now they're engaging in our community in a whole different way."

Ermineskin and his siblings were forced into Canada's Residential School system, and Paquette said he is a descendent of survivors of the Sixties Scoop. "In fact, every single Indigenous person you know has either gone to residential school, had a parent who went to residential school, or had grandparents who experienced residential school. So this history is very much alive for us today," Paquette said.

The lasting effects of these traumas can be seen in rising rates of addiction, homelessness, and mental health challenges that both Indigenous communities and municipalities are struggling to deal with.

St. Paul is "blessed to be in the centre at the centre of multiple Indigenous communities and Nations around us. We're also one of the last Residential Schools to close in Canada. So our community is very indebted to resolve and work with generational trauma. We are in it in the thick, and we see it even heavier in the youth," Miller said.

Whether the actions St. Paul has taken to address these issues and repair relationships with neighbouring Indigenous communities have created real change, Miller said it's not her call to make.

"I could choose to brag about some of the events we've had, some of the engagements we've had, some of the amazing circles we've had. But I am choosing not to until somebody from my community recognizes a shift," Miller said.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks