Fort Smith’s town council is pledging council and staff will be more responsive to the calls to action put forward in 2015 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
Councillors on Tuesday passed four motions and issued a proclamation related to both the TRC calls to action and the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The first motion saw the Town of Fort Smith formally adopt the UN declaration and “repudiate the concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous people and lands.”
One of the TRC’s calls to action requests all levels of government in Canada adopt and implement the declaration as a framework for reconciliation.
Town council also moved to add truth and reconciliation as a council priority, to be reviewed monthly.
Two other motions sought to establish concrete action regarding reconciliation.
In one, councillors moved to reiterate the importance of maintaining communication with local Indigenous governments via individual and group leadership tables.
Mayor Lynn Napier noted the motion is meant to emphasize collaboration to council and to the broader community.
“I would like to thank the local Indigenous leaders: President Heron, Chief Cheezie, and Chief Poitras. I appreciate working with them. We have a really great group,” said Napier.
“It’s very cooperative, and we all work together. And know that by working together, our entire community benefits.”
‘Building a relationship’
Allan Heron, president of the Fort Smith Métis Council, said meetings have been taking place since fall 2019 and he’s “quite pleased” with how things are going.
“We are building a relationship with both bands and the RCMP and the Town. We want to work together as a group, an Aboriginal working group with community leaders,” he said.
Chief David Poitras of the Salt River First Nation said the meetings discuss priorities and social and political issues, as well as how the organizations can help each other out.
“I support the Town as they work to create better understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people,” he wrote to Cabin Radio.
Chief Gerry Cheezie of Smith’s Landing First Nation could not be reached by the time of publication.
In its last motion, town council moved that it would advocate for the NWT Department of Municipal and Community Affairs’ school of community government to train municipal staff and councils on cultural understanding and sensitivity.
Councillor Chris Westwell said the territory already has programming online. “It’s just a matter of really moving the videos over and the resources over, so I think it’s a great idea,” he said. He questioned why the Town wasn’t first requesting the training through administration before elevating it as a public request from council.
“We feel that this should come from mayor and council to the GNWT, if nothing else to set a model for rollout of similar training in other communities,” responded senior administrative officer Keith Morrison. Morrison said the town has asked for access to other GNWT training in the past and has “not had a lot of luck.”
In the GNWT’s course catalogue, there are five Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Training modules employees can sign up to complete.
Napier said she thought the training should not only be made available to municipalities, but also to the RCMP and other organizations new to the cultures of the NWT.
Fort Smith ‘political in some good ways’
Separate from the four motions, the Town passed a proclamation committing to engaging with the TRC’s calls to action, adopting the UN declaration, and working with local Indigenous governments to create a safe and unified community respecting of Indigenous culture, language, and heritage.
“Change doesn’t happen when nobody speaks out and Fort Smith has often, I think, a bit of a reputation as a political community. But we are political in some very good ways and we have some very strong voices in our community,” Napier said, reflecting on the motions and proclamation. She recognized the organizers of local protests related to Black Lives Matter and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Deputy Mayor Kevin Smith also summarized MLA Lisa Semmler’s speech in the Legislative Assembly in early June, saying the Inuvik MLA had talked about “the lack of enthusiasm or the lack of substantive policy change at adopting truth and reconciliation recommendations on a territorial level, as well as recommendations that came out of the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women.”
Smith continued: “I think it’s timely that community governments are also kind-of reminding the GNWT that they need to embrace these issues that are separate but interconnected … I think it’s a good time to have another voice coming forward to the GNWT.”