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Editorial: Federal government must do better at reconciliation in the valley

As Canadians, we have invested time and effort into better understanding our relationship with Indigenous peoples and trying to improve it.

As Canadians, we have invested time and effort into better understanding our relationship with Indigenous peoples and trying to improve it.

That is one of the reasons why as a country we went through a multi-year process with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which issued 94 calls to action in 2015.

Those calls to action were meant to be a guide for government, business, non-profits and the public to explore as a means to change our behaviour.

As Canadians, it is paramount that we acknowledge that the way Indigenous people have been treated poorly throughout our history on these lands.

From the misrepresentation of what Treaties were before First Nations signed them, residential schools and the 60s scoop, to the fact that Indigenous women and girls experience a vastly higher rate of violence than anyone else in our society.

Our government and its many systems and processes were built upon the isolation and destruction of First Nations identity and culture.

With the final report of the commission and the calls to action, Canadians were challenged to be accountable for the effects of systemic racism against  Indigenous people and change that relationship. That included changing how the federal government treats First Nations. 

Lately in the Bow Valley, however, we have seen how taking up the mantle of reconciliation has fallen short for two federal departments.

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), formerly known as Indian Affairs, has under the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau been tasked with improving the funding system used for Indigenous education.

But when an anomaly in the system of First Nations education was flagged by the Canadian Rockies Public Schools as leading to a potential funding shortfall that could result in the Exshaw School being closed – ISC’s response was to deny there was an issue to begin with.

Adding further insult to injury, ISC came into this valley and tried to divide and conquer. Instead of listening to understand and find solutions, ISC’s actions were to pit those involved in this issue against each other. 

Last time we checked, trying to destroy relationships between First Nations and nearby non-indigenous communities in order to deflect from shortcomings in new federal policies and programs was not in the commission’s calls to action. 

To the west of the Stoney Nakoda Nation is Banff National Park, managed federally by Parks Canada. In 2010, Parks signed an memorandum of understanding with the Stoney Nakoda to build a better relationship and respect the fact that the national park sits on land that is the traditional territory for the First Nation. 

Fast forward 10 years and nothing has come of that agreement, which included the establishment of a Nakoda Guardian Program, an idea the First Nation proposed to Parks in 2017. 

So when a 2,400-year-old bison skull, a culturally significant animal for the First Nation, was unearthed in Banff last February it came as a surprise to many that it was given to the Siksiksa First Nation’s Blackfoot Crossing Historial Park. 

Parks could not provide the Outlook with a copy of a policy on how culturally significant artifacts for First Nations are managed. It did acknowledge that it provided the skull to the Siksika after they requested it.

Nobody, however, could provide any clarity on how the Siksika knew about it to begin with and why the Stoney Nakoda Nation was not informed about the skull’s discovery as well.  

If we are truly in an era of reconciliation, then decisions by federal agencies when it comes to culturally important artifacts or changes to how services like education are funded should meet a higher standard than we have seen here lately.

As Parks Canada prepares its next 10 year management plan, we hope it takes an opportunity to set out expectations with respect to its relationship with the neighbouring Stoney Nakoda in particular.