The Pulse: Dec. 19, 2023

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  • -3°C: Mainly cloudy. 60% chance of flurries in the afternoon. Wind becoming southeast 20 km/h gusting to 40 late in the morning. High minus 3. Wind chill near minus 10. (forecast)
  • 5:30pm: The Edmonton Oilers (13-14-1) play the New York Islanders (14-8-8) at UBS Arena. (details)

A man stands in a program room, pointing both his fingers to his left.

Cree language classes go beyond words

By Stephanie Swensrude

On a recent evening, Les Skinner stood before students in the program room at the Highlands branch of the Edmonton Public Library. He put his hands over the left side of his chest, using Cree sign language to signal the nêhiyawêwin word for grandma.

Skinner said "nôhkom." The class repeated the word.

Next, Skinner put his hands on the right side of his chest: "nimosôm," he said. Grandpa. The class repeated.

He put one hand on his left side, signing the word for mother: "nikâwiy," he said. He put his right hand on the right side of his chest: "nôhtâwiy." Father.

Skinner teaches a twice-weekly nêhiyawêwin language class at the Highlands library, with one of the classes running online. There are usually about 10 to 15 students in person and 30 for the online classes. Some of the students are Indigenous, others are from settler backgrounds. There are teenagers and seniors, dads and young women.

According to the 2021 census, 5.8% of Edmonton's population is Indigenous, but less than 1% of Edmontonians speak an Indigenous language. About 1,500 people said their first language is Cree, and 335 people said Cree is the language they speak most often at home.

The library created the language-learning class about seven years ago in partnership with the Canadian Native Friendship Centre. Its goal is to enhance literacy.

But though it's a language-learning class, Skinner teaches literacy that goes beyond vocabulary, pronunciation, and verb tenses. "We try to have a built community, and we try to build a little bit of kinship at the same time as we're learning the language," he said.

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Headlines: Dec. 19, 2023

By Mariam Ibrahim

  • A Court of King's Bench hearing over proposed homeless encampment removals has ended with an interim injunction until Jan. 11 stating that the city and Edmonton Police Service can't proceed with the removals unless certain conditions are met. Justice Kent Davidson ruled that police can remove tents if there are immediate health and safety risks, but can only do so with 48 hours' notice and if the city has informed social service agencies of the plans. They must also consider cold weather conditions, and can only carry out the removals if there is enough shelter space available for people being displaced. The city, police, and Coalition for Justice and Human Rights all agreed on the conditions. Police had initially planned to begin dismantling about 135 tents across eight encampments in the city's core beginning Dec. 18, but faced the emergency injunction application and widespread public criticism. About 100 protestors gathered outside the Edmonton courthouse on Dec. 18 to oppose the planned sweeps.
  • Several advocates and observers have drawn attention to a discrepancy between statements from Edmonton city councillors and officials with the Edmonton Police Service about plans to dismantle homeless encampments in the city's core. An affidavit from Staff Sgt. Michael Dreilich says city representatives agreed with police plans to remove the tents, and Deputy Chief Warren Driechel said on Dec. 18 that city operations were involved in the planning. Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and Coun. Anne Stevenson, however, both said they weren't aware of the plans before they became public through social media posts. In a statement published to Instagram Dec. 18, Sohi said recent events "have highlighted gaps in coordination on the encampment response plan and the need for increased collaboration," adding that he has called an emergency meeting on Dec. 20 between representatives from the police service, city, and social services providers to discuss decision-making changes, the communication process, and coordination efforts.
  • Asia Gladue, an 11-year-old cancer survivor from Valleyview in northwest Alberta, chose to forgo her Make a Wish Foundation dream of visiting Graceland to instead help Edmonton's homeless by supporting the Hope Mission. During a July visit to Edmonton, she was impacted by the sight of people experiencing homelessness and decided to spend her wish packing food hampers and crafting Christmas cards for Hope Mission clients. Asia was the fifth child in northern Alberta to grant a wish of giving back through the foundation's "I Wish to Give" category.
  • The provincial government announced it will make changes to the Edmonton and Calgary city charters to limit housing cost increases while supporting housing needs. Key changes include altering off-site levies to prevent unnecessary cost escalation and repealing inclusionary housing to avoid driving up new housing costs. Cities will no longer be able to introduce building code bylaws related to energy consumption and heat retention, with the government instead standardizing building codes across the province. The changes will be posted online for 60 days before going to cabinet for final approval.
  • Alberta Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler is investigating the dismissal of Dr. Deena Hinshaw from a part-time position with the Alberta Health Services Indigenous Wellness Core, CBC reported. The investigation comes after more than 100 physicians signed a letter calling for an ethics investigation into the dismissal. The controversy arose when Hinshaw's job offer was rescinded shortly after an internal announcement, leading to resignations from Dr. Esther Tailfeathers and Dr. Braden Manns in protest, citing the decision as a setback for Indigenous health care and trust. Premier Danielle Smith has denied any involvement in Hinshaw's dismissal, saying AHS staffing decisions "were made by AHS." Details on the scope and status of the ethics investigation remain unclear, but Tailfeathers and Manns said they provided testimony to Trussler in October.
  • The Edmonton Elks have signed American defensive back James Wiggins, the team announced Dec. 18. Wiggins previously played with the New Orleans Breakers in the USFL during the 2023 season and was a 2021 NFL Draft pick by the Arizona Cardinals. He brings a record of 87 tackles, one sack, and five interceptions in 32 college games, and has had professional stints with the Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs, and Green Bay Packers.
Three smiling people sit in a row with microphones before them.

Municipal trivia can stump even Jeopardy aces

By Tim Querengesser

What do you get when you mix two Edmontonians who have appeared on Jeopardy with the author of The Ultimate Edmonton Trivia Book, as well as a kazoo-played version of the Final Jeopardy theme, for a YEG-themed game of trivia? The answer in the form of a question has got to be "What is the making of a great podcast?"

The annual episode of Speaking Municipally Jeopardy dates back to 2018, and has included former mayors, city councillors, and reporters and podcasters as contestants.

Co-hosts Troy Pavlek and Mack Male went one better for 2023 and assembled actual Jeopardy contestants who hail from Edmonton — Sam Papuha and Kyle Marshall — as well as trivia author Emil Tiedemann. Pavlek crafted 51 Edmonton-focused questions to challenge them. Category examples: "First link in the chain" (about chain restaurants or franchises started in the region); "In this term" (about this council's record); and "On the Valley Line" (no explanation needed there).

Devoted listeners of Speaking Municipally may find themselves a bit more prepared for the clues than the contestants were. Witness the reaction to the $800 clue in the "In this term" category: "On these two councillors being appointed by the UCP to sit on a community safety task force, (Mayor Amarjeet) Sohi said, 'They are not there to represent city council, because it is not approved by city council.'"

Silence ensued.

"The Speaking Municipally listener at home is shouting at their audio device," Pavlek said, as laughter rang out from an enthusiastic studio audience. Pavlek then turned to Taproot reporter Stephanie Swensrude, who correctly asked, "Who is councillors (Tim) Cartmell and (Sarah) Hamilton?"

Marshall and Papuha were more comfortable sharing what it was like to be on the real Jeopardy. "I remember trying to make eye contact with my mom (who was in the audience) to let her know that I was somewhat relaxed," Marshall said of his June 2023 appearance. He placed second.

Papuha, who appeared on the show in November 2022, was conscripted to host Jeopardy at her office's Christmas party. "In the end, I didn't force anybody to answer in the form of a question, because nobody seemed to remember to, and that's OK," Papuha said.

Tiedemann, the author of 10 books including three on trivia, was somewhat starstruck by the two. "I'd love to go on Jeopardy … so it's definitely cool to meet these two."

All agreed, however, that a most infamous Jeopardy question from 2019 still makes them laugh: "Found on the North Saskatchewan River, this petroleum & meatpacking city was established as a fort in 1795."

You guessed it: What is Edmonton?

Play along and find out who won on the Dec. 15 episode episode of Taproot's civic affairs podcast.

Photo: (From left) Kyle Marshall, Sam Papuha, and Emil Tiedemann answered Edmonton-themed trivia in the form of a question during a live taping of Speaking Municipally at Work Nicer. (Mack Male)