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Report identifies challenges, opportunities to create an inclusive society

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By Michelle Willcott Sweetgrass Writer EDMONTON







Child welfare and youth justice are two issues clearly highlighted in a series of dialogues that took place in Alberta two years ago.

The Circle Alberta Report: Dialogues on Aboriginal Futures—Strengthening Relationships for Shared Prosperity, only recently released, contains the dialogues and recommendations from a year-long consultation process on critical issues relating to Aboriginal society and inclusion.

The focus of the consultation was to create a dialogue to “start building relationships and breaking barriers,” said Renee Vaugeois, executive director for the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights.

Although the entire process had a number of positive outcomes, the recommendations and best practices require more support from the broader Alberta community for the vision of economic and social inclusion to be fully realized, said Vaugeois.

The report comes about four years after a challenge issued by former Assembly of First Nations Chief Ovide Mercredi.

In early 2008, the centre launched Phase I by consulting with over 150 participants in eight Alberta communities on three key themes facing Aboriginal people: community successes, community challenges and future goals. In the spirit of inclusion, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, organizations, and activists were asked for their input.

“We started doing dialogues in Alberta communities to create a space of frank discussion on issues of social development,” said Vaugeois. “We found people wanted to have these discussions.”

With insight into successes and challenges facing Aboriginal communities, the centre was able to proceed with Phase II of the project. Over the course of two days in October 2008, approximately 200 business and government stakeholders discussed the issues identified in Phase I as well as capacity building and economic engagement. They also heard from guest speakers like Chief Ovide Mercredi, Andrew Bear Robe, Elijah Harper and Dr. Patricia Makokis.

According to Vaugeois, one of the most valuable outcomes of the process was that both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal stakeholders were able to come to a common understanding about the plight of Aboriginal people in Alberta. The meeting was also a good forum to discuss the issues of inclusiveness, reconciliation, healing, and racism in a positive setting, said Vaugeois.
Challenges such as Aboriginal housing, employment, education and training, racism and discrimination can only be addressed and improved upon with broader Alberta society participation, said Vaugeois.

“We need to look at the education system in terms of how it functions, the inclusion of family, what is taught and how the school can be a space for educating about history,” said Vaugeois.

In the meantime, many of the organizations who took part in the process have united to support the outcomes of the report and pressure the Canadian government to focus on issues like the Indigenous Declaration Act.  
The Circle Alberta Report is available for download on the John Humphrey Centre website and includes a summary of the dialogues of the project, recommendations for action and best practices highlights.