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EPCOR investigating ‘deeply unsettling’ racist incident between crew and Edmonton students holding smudging ceremony

Click to play video 'Grand Chief calls for meeting with EPCOR contractors who disrupted Edmonton schoolyard smudging' Grand Chief calls for meeting with EPCOR contractors who disrupted Edmonton schoolyard smudging
Treaty Six Grand Chief Billy Morin says he wants to sit down and talk with the construction workers who reportedly swore, hurled racial slurs and revved their engines in an attempt to disrupt a smudging ceremony at a junior high school in southeast Edmonton. Fletcher Kent has more.

EPCOR said it will investigate an incident where members of a construction crew doing work near Edith Rogers School allegedly made racist remarks as students participated in an Indigenous smudging ceremony Friday.

In a letter to parents obtained by Global News, the school’s principal, Stacy Fysh, described the incident on Sept. 25 as “deeply unsettling.”

“Students and staff were participating in a smudging ceremony on the basketball tarmac,” Fysh said in the letter. “During the ceremony, members of the construction crew swore, made racist remarks, and ran their equipment so that it was difficult for the participants to hear the ceremony.

“Everyone in our school community is disturbed by this unacceptable behavior.”

Fysh added that the school reported the incident to EPCOR the day it happened.

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Read more: Enoch Cree Nation, EPCOR formalize agreement to work together in spirit of reconciliation

On Twitter, EPCOR said Saturday that it was aware of the incident and that it involved a contractor. The company said it has shut down construction work on the site near the school until an investigation is complete.

Carrie Rosa, the acting director of communications for Edmonton Public Schools, said that the smudging ceremony was done as a part of a commitment to truth and reconciliation.

“We aspire for all of our learning and working environments to be free from hatred, racism and hurt,” Rosa said in an email Saturday. “That’s why what happened yesterday at Edith Rogers School was so deeply unsettling and unacceptable for our staff and students who were participating in the smudging ceremony.”

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Rosa added that EPCOR has assured her officials there are taking the incident “very seriously.”

Click to play video 'Racist incident between EPCOR crew and Edmonton students holding smudging ceremony' Racist incident between EPCOR crew and Edmonton students holding smudging ceremony
Racist incident between EPCOR crew and Edmonton students holding smudging ceremony

Treaty Six Grand Chief Billy Morin said Monday he was disappointed, but not surprised, when he heard of the incident. Morin said he plans on meeting with EPCOR’s CEO to talk about it.

“I’m really looking forward to the tough dialogue that needs to happen with the organization,” he said Monday.

Morin said he would also like to talk about race and reconciliation with the workers. He is challenging those involved to come meet with him to have a “real conversation.”

“I think there is no easy way but there is a practical way,” he said. “If they’re really sincere about being Albertan and Canadian, well, those are values that Canadians uphold.”

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Edith Rogers is located in southeast Edmonton in the Mill Woods area.