During the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Calgary’s outgoing mayor, Naheed Nenshi, offered some advice.
“Read White Goose Flying.”
Those comments come five years after the White Goose Flying report was originally published.
Marilyn North Peigan, a Blackfoot woman and member of the Piikani nation, was part of the committee tasked with producing the report.
Work on the White Goose Flying report was ultimately a healing process for her.
“I came as an intergenerational person sitting at that table, because my grandparents on both sides were at the residential schools and my family is part of the sixties scoop,” North Peigan told Global News. “And I myself went to a federal Indian state school.”
Named for a 17-year-old Piikani Nation teen who attended St. Dunstan’s industrial school in Ogden and died of tuberculosis in 1899, the White Goose Flying report took the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and determined which would be most appropriate for the city to act upon.
The process of reading the TRC report and calls to action reopened past and intergenerational wounds for North Peigan.
“Those were my traumas and my hurt and everything that happened in my past that were dissected for political purposes.”
Advice from an elder on how her actions as part of the Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee (CAUAC) could affect the community helped her focus.
“It was going to be for the betterment of all Calgarians and not just one specific group of people, because I am a Canadian Forces veteran and I gave that oath to represent everybody underneath that flag with full honor.”
CAUAC produced the report in May 2016, a year after the TRC concluded its work.
“I went through a period of healing once we tabled that report because I had to deal with all that information and it was my story in those books.”
Five years on, the city has acted on some of the 43 calls to action in the local report, including displaying the Treaty 7 First Nations flags at municipal plaza and in council chambers, renaming Reconciliation Bridge, land acknowledgements and the creation of the Indigenous relations office.
North Peigan expressed frustration over how few of those calls to action have been acted upon since the White Goose Flying report was presented to city leaders.
The death of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests across the country and in Calgary, the racism hearings at city hall, a commitment to anti-racism from city council and City of Calgary senior management was almost a déja vu for North Peigan.
“One of the largest issues that I had to agree with when the Black Lives Matters came to the forefront last summer was the fact that Canada was offering as a solution symbolism and not action,” the former CAUAC member said. “And that’s exactly the situation we are in when it comes to the White Goose Flying report.“
A member of the Calgary Police Commission, North Peigan understands the pace at which institutions change.
“I have to have patience because, being on the police commission, one thing I know about public change is that you have to have patience and it takes time,” she said. “This is why we say it’s going to take generations to change.”
One agent of change is the city’s Indigenous relations office, which opened in January 2020.
And this year, it rolled out an education program for all 15,000 City of Calgary employees, called “Indigenous 101.”
“It provided the history of Indigenous people, pre-contact history, the history of colonization and the developments of of the modern era in terms of the actions that have taken place to restore the rights of Indigenous people and the decolonization efforts that are underway,” Dr. Terry Poucette, team lead for the city’s Indigenous relations office, said.
That matches TRC call to action number 57: “to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations.”
Poucette said the Indigenous relations office is also able to tailor training to needs of individual business units within the city and that senior city management was “very supportive” of the webinar.
At a June 8 meeting of the city’s priorities and finance committee, Poucette said she would like to see the city develop a suite of Indigenous relations curriculum.
That meeting also revealed cuts to the budget of the Indigenous relations office, from $1.1 million to $618,000.
Making a monument
The discovery of unmarked graves at former Indian residential school sites across the country, starting in May 2021, spurred Calgarians to create an impromptu monument of childrens’ shoes and other items on the steps of city hall, one of many that would span the country.
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That seemed to be the impetus the city needed to enact call to action number 82: establishing a monument recognizing the history of residential schools.
According to the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation, five of Alberta’s 25 residential schools were near Calgary.
“In August, the City of Calgary and the indigenous community had a pipe ceremony where we committed to work together to establish a more permanent memorial to honor Indian residential school children that died there, as well as survivors,” Poucette said.
A working group that includes members of the Indigenous community is in the early phases of determining what that permanent memorial could look like. That could include some of the memorial display from the steps of city hall.
Another call to action that is now underway is establishing an Indigenous gathering place, reflecting TRC call to action number 21: “healing centres to address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual harms caused by residential schools.”
That work began with another pipe ceremony and memorandum of understanding with the Indigenous Gathering Place Society in June.
Housing as reconciliation
And the city is looking at how it can help fill in the gaps of affordable housing for Indigenous people in Calgary.
“What was unique about this project was that a governance model was created that honors Indigenous and non-Indigenous approaches to engagement,” Poucette, a Stoney-Nakoda woman, said.
“It paralleled Indigenous processes and worldviews in the engagement strategy and created an ethical space for the city and the Indigenous nations to work collaboratively together.”
Poucette said part of Calgary Housing Company’s future role could include the co-creation of an Indigenous urban housing strategy.
“If this urban Indigenous housing strategy becomes a reality, I think that it would move the reconciliation needle substantially,” she said, “because many people that are homeless in the city are Indigenous people and they’re homeless for a variety of reasons, including barriers that would allow them to obtain housing.”
Katie Black, general manager of community services, recognized that there is still work to be done to realize the rest of the 43 calls to action highlighted in the White Goose Flying report.
“As much as we have started, we are very mindful of how very, very much work is ahead of us at the city, to demonstrate that we take our responsibility to heart.”
Reconciliation as election issue
“I believe that the city’s commitment to truth and reconciliation will continue regardless of elections now or in the future, and the Indigenous Relations Office will participate in the orientation of the new council,” Poucette said.
Calgarians go to the polls to select a new mayor and council on Oct. 18.
“We look forward to meeting with the new mayor and council and working with them on the next steps in the advancement of the truth and reconciliation work that needs to be done,” she added.
At a recent mayoral forum hosted by the University of Calgary Students’ Union, candidates were asked for their thoughts on reconciliation in the city.
“Many of the calls are symbolic in nature,” Jeromy Farkas said, pointing to displaying Treaty 7 flags in the council chamber.
Farkas said he planned to continue advocacy for issues like crime and safety, development and access to clean water for the neighbouring Tsuut’ina Nation, “seeking that opportunity, that potential to live out a great Canadian life.”
In addition to displaying Treaty 7 flags, Jyoti Gondek said the White Goose Flying report instructed council to establish a Indigenous gathering space and acknowledging the history of residential schools.
“The next steps that we have been advised to take by our Indigenous relations office is to carry on with public education, to challenge any curriculum that doesn’t include truth and reconciliation, to provide affordable housing and homelessness prevention solutions and here’s the big one: to have a budget for the Indigenous Relations Office that doesn’t keep getting slashed.”
Gondek proposed a perpetual funding stream for the Indigenous relations office.
“It’s one thing to do a land acknowledgment; it’s entirely another to dedicate funding from any land sales that the city has over time to go directly towards the Indigenous Relations Office.”
Zak Hartley wanted to hear from area First Nations to get a list of priorities from them, akin to the TRC or the White Goose Flying report.
Teddy Ogbonna called for a commission to hear from Treaty 7 nations.
Brad Field said “we have to get comfortable with uncomfortable conversations.”
Other candidates for mayor and council took to social media on Thursday to post their stances on reconciliation.
Running to be councillor for Ward 7, North Peigan sees October’s election to be pivotal in the path towards reconciliation.
“This is going to be an election for the generations to come, definitely, but this is also the opportunity for Calgarians to form a new relationship with their city,” she said, adding that reconciliation should be part of the city’s recovery plans.
“This is me picking up my football and running it into the end zone myself because I’m done waiting.”
And if she doesn’t reach elected office this fall, the Piikani Nation member has already seen generational change.
“My daughter is actually growing up outside of that system,” North Peigan said.
“And it’s just so amazing to see how much a child can be happy and grow happy when they have that connection with their family.”