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City leads way in acknowledging Aboriginal contribution

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By Shari Narine, Sweetgrass Writer, Edmonton







The city that boasts the second largest urban Aboriginal population in Canada is celebrating a milestone and leading the country as an example of how relations can be strengthened between municipal governments and its Aboriginal residents.

Outgoing city councilor Ron Hayter, who was instrumental in bringing forward the Declaration Strengthening Relationships Between the City of Edmonton and Urban Aboriginal People, said copies of the declaration have been distributed to hundreds of cities around the world and has been used as a guide in other Canadian cities as well as in the United States, New Zealand and Australia.

Five years ago, the declaration was presented with a unanimous front by the Aboriginal population and then passed by city council without dissent.

“You usually can’t get that kind of approval,” said Hayter, who has been on city council for 33 years. “It was an iron clad commitment to serve as a blueprint for a new era for Aboriginals in our city.”

Leona Carter, who works in the city’s Aboriginal Relations Office, said, “It was a momentous time in our Aboriginal history, to be acknowledged and to be made to feel a part of and welcomed to this municipality.”

Hayter took on the portfolio of Aboriginal affairs and northern relations under Mayor Stephen Mandel.

“It became clear (to me) that after the first meeting with Aboriginal people that something powerful and lasting had to be done to tear down the invisible walls,” said Hayter. “I decided nothing short of a declaration was needed.”

The declaration celebrates past Aboriginal contributions, recognizes past injustices and acknowledges the legitimacy of Aboriginal autonomy. The declaration concludes, “Aboriginal people must have a strong voice in our city’s future. . . . The City will seek to build relationships with Aboriginal Peoples that are rooted in trust and respect. All of our partnerships must involve shared responsibility and ensure that Aboriginal Peoples take their rightful place in building a strong Aboriginal presence and voice in the cultural, social and economic future of Edmonton.”

Travis Enright, chair of Edmonton’s Urban Aboriginal Affairs Committee, said it is up to his committee to ensure that the declaration remains a “living, breathing document.”

Changes in the city’s structure have been noticeable since the declaration was adopted. Edmonton was the first municipality in Canada to establish an Aboriginal Relations Office.

“In roads have been made in city departments,” said Carter.

Not only have more Aboriginal people been employed by the city, but city employees are more aware of Aboriginal contributions and needs and Aboriginal people are becoming comfortable in accessing city programs and services, said Carter.

Hayter said the impact of the declaration is not limited to the municipal government, with programs “springing up” at the city’s post-secondary institutions, Edmonton public and Catholic school divisions, and the Edmonton Capital Ex.

“Hopefully we can build on the declaration, acknowledging the issues of the past and press on to the future,” said Mandel.

Representing the Aboriginal community at the special ceremony held at City Hall were Elder Leonard Saddleback (First Nations), Lorraine Savard (Métis) and Minnie Freeman (Inuit).


Photo Caption: (From left) Elder Leonard Saddleback honours Councillor Ron Hayter and Mayor Stephen Mandel, who were presented with holy blankets at a special ceremony Sept. 22 in recognition of the fifth anniversary of the Declaration Strengthening Relationships Between the City of Edmonton and Urban Aboriginal People.