A three-year program to help government staff better understand Indigenous culture and history is to start in Alberta next week.
Richard Feehan, the Indigenous relations minister, said 27,000 provincial government employees will each attend a six-hour session that includes talks with elders, films and group exercises.
The direct cost of the project is $2.7 million. It is to begin with employees from the Children’s Services and Justice departments.
“The training will help dispel some of the myths that surround our relationship with the Indigenous people and our understanding of who they are,” Feehan said Monday.
“I think it really does help us on our journey toward reconciliation.”
The program has been two years in the making and follows a commitment Premier Rachel Notley made in 2015 to implement the goals of the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Rights.
The course was designed with help from more than 60 elders, youth and women in Calgary, Edmonton, Lac La Biche, Lethbridge, Peace River and Rocky Mountain House.
“It’s an in-person course that includes an elder-led ceremony to start,” said Finance Minister Joe Ceci, who is responsible for public service staff.
“It’s followed by history from an Indigenous perspective after that, a sharing circle and a discussion on reconciliation and what it means in the Alberta government context.”
Ceci said staff will get information on residential schools, treaties and contemporary issues and on “how they can apply what they’ve learned to their work in the public service.”
“This training is not a ‘one-and-done’ exercise and it is not a box to be checked off,” he said.
“It is part of a fundamental shift in how we build lasting relationships and understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.”
A letter this spring from Alberta Health Services referred to an Indigenous teenage girl only as “Treaty Indian.”
Last year, Alberta Health Services apologized after an official conducting a seminar on a First Nation reserve later sent a text message complaining she had been yelled at by “a rabid squaw.” The worker who sent the text message and another who was intended to receive it were fired.
Gerald Cunningham, president of the Metis Settlements General Council, said it’s critical to build bridges and broaden understanding with government.
“Knowledge is a very important step on the path towards cultural understanding and reconciliation,” said Cunningham.
“We get left out of a lot of the (government program) funding stream because of that lack of knowledge.”