Edmonton region prepares to observe National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

· The Pulse
By Nathan Fung
in the Regional Roundup

Most municipalities in the region will mark the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30 as a statutory holiday, with commemorative events, educational opportunities, and more planned.

"I think that often the view is that (reconciliation) is a federal responsibility," Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) president Paul McLauchlin told Taproot. "But we make land-use decisions as rural municipal leaders that often can impact Indigenous rights and interests, and we need to recognize that they are partners on the landscape."

RMA shared a list of ideas of what municipalities can do to honour the day and to reflect on the legacy of residential schools. In addition to recognizing it as a statutory holiday, one suggestion was to participate in the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation's online events, scheduled from Sept. 27 to Oct. 1.

The RMA has also partnered with the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association to provide workshops about Canada's history and the municipal role in reconciliation.

The new federal holiday was announced in June in response to one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action. The call urged the federal government to establish the day to "ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process."

While Sept. 30 was declared a federal statutory holiday, the Government of Alberta left the decision of whether to mark the day up to individual organizations and employers in the province. Many Edmonton region municipalities are providing a paid day of leave for staff and some school boards are also giving students the day off, but McLauchlin said people shouldn't talk about Sept. 30 as a "holiday."

"The word holiday is not appropriate for this discussion," he said. "It needs to be a day that is a recognition of understanding and learning, and educating yourself, and really not just talk but going down that journey of action."

The Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board also released a statement on the importance of recognizing the day, adding that it is "committed to building meaningful, long-lasting relationships with and learning from Indigenous communities in the region."

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation The discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. earlier this year sparked renewed discussion about the horrific conditions endured by Indigenous children at these schools. (Mack Male/Flickr)

St. Albert initially decided not to recognize the day as a statutory holiday because it would cost the city $250,000, reported St. Albert Today. However, a St. Albert spokesperson told Taproot that after reflection and listening to its Indigenous partners, the city will now observe the day as a designated paid leave day.

Here's what's happening in the Edmonton region to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation:

Devon: A community walk will begin at 1pm at the town's municipal office, and will end at the Devon Community Centre. People will also be invited to write a message on an orange shirt. Finally, there will be guest presentations on the impact of residential schools at 3pm.

Edmonton: City employees will be provided with a day of leave with pay, and are encouraged to learn more about the intergenerational trauma Indigenous people experienced at residential schools. The High Level Bridge will also be lit orange.

Fort Saskatchewan: There will be a moment of reflection at city hall from 2-3pm, and a virtual speaker event is being organized by the Fort Saskatchewan Multicultural Association at 6pm. Additionally, the city invited Miranda Jimmy, co-founder of Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton, to provide training for city staff on Sept. 28-29.

Leduc: A flag-raising ceremony is being held at Leduc Civic Centre at 11am. The ceremony will include raising the Treaty Six and Métis flags, prayer and blessings by a Cree elder, and traditional drumming and singing by Chubby Cree, a First Nations Indigenous hand drum group.

Leduc County: A living library event is being held at the Calmar Program Centre at 6:30pm. This session will feature speakers who have lived experiences related to the legacy of residential schools.

Morinville: People are encouraged to wear orange in the spirit of reconciliation, as well as to stand in solidarity with inter-generational survivors.

Parkland County: The county will celebrate with members of the local Indigenous community and raise the Treaty Six flag at the Parkland County Centre.

St. Albert: City building flags will be flown at half-mast, and most city offices will be closed for the day.

Stony Plain: An outdoor ceremony with local elders Charlene and Wilson Bearhead will be held at the Stony Plain Youth Centre at 11am. Community members are welcome to wear orange shirts and bring small orange artwork, such as a paper heart, as a gesture of reconciliation.

Strathcona County: The Strathcona Wilderness Centre is hosting a free day of learning. Events include an Indigenous elder welcome and blessing, plus Indigenous performances. The Strathcona County Library Bookmobile will also be on-site with Felice Gladue and the Métis on the Move exhibit.

Other municipalities like Spruce Grove will be closing their offices for the day.