While the City of Yellowknife’s reconciliation plan is still being drafted, staff have outlined forthcoming initiatives they hope will improve relations with Indigenous people.
On Monday, city councillors studied a memorandum listing a number of reconciliation projects planned for this year – like updating stop signs to include the Wılıı̀deh language. The projects will go to city council for approval next week.
Meeting by video link, city administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellett told councillors staff worked with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) on proper spelling and pronunciation for the stop signs.
The project will begin with signs downtown, she said, then Old Town and Ndilǫ, before spreading to other areas of Yellowknife.
Councillor Julian Morse noted some residents felt the City was “abandoning reconciliation” when its Indigenous relations advisor position ended in February – just 18 months after the position had been created. (The position had one occupant, Maggie Mercredi, in that period.)
The role had been created using federal funding. Councillors rejected a plan in early December 2019 to keep the position using City funds.
But Morse on Monday said Yellowknife has been a leader in municipal reconciliation and has a good relationship with YKDFN. He pointed to Yellowknife’s support of proposed boundary changes as an example, which would include returning some land to the First Nation.
“There are not a lot of communities, I think, that are taking these steps,” he said.
Morse also praised the City’s plan to support the creation of a monument to residential school survivors and their families, as well as those who lost their lives. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has recommended residential school monuments be installed in every capital city in Canada.
“I think it would be great to see Yellowknife be one of the first, if not the first capital city to put a monument up,” Morse said.
Many plans ‘still conceptual’
Other reconciliation projects include a memorandum of understanding with YKDFN and an Elder-in-residence program at the public library. (That program is on hold while the space is closed to the public during the Covid-19 pandemic.)
Funding for these projects will come from $50,000 allocated in the City’s 2020 budget for the purpose of reconciliation.
Once the reconciliation plan is complete, the City hopes to create an internal committee and external reference panel to guide its implementation – alongside a strategic advisor.
Bassi-Kellett said those plans are “still very conceptual” at this stage. However, she anticipates at least half of the internal committee will be Indigenous staff members. The reference panel will reflect Yellowknife’s population, including people from a variety of First Nations as well as Inuit and Métis residents.
The reconciliation plan is intended to be a “living document” that sets out broad principles guiding the City’s reconciliation work, as well as concrete steps and timelines for implementation and monitoring.
That includes creating “an overall environment that welcomes and supports Indigenous persons within all City facilities and locations,” and the continued education of City staff in learning about Indigenous ways of being.
According to the meeting agenda, the City had planned to have the draft plan ready for June 2020. Recent pandemic planning has affected this timeline. When the draft is now expected is not clear.