By Lethbridge Herald on September 21, 2020.
Reconciliation Week in Lethbridge takes on a renewed significance this year after a spring and summer of social strife surrounding the Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Lives Matter movements in Canada and south of border in the U.S.
“Obviously there are huge social issues existing as a legacy of residential schools,” acknowledged City of Lethbridge Indigenous Relations co-ordinator Pamela Beebe, who helped organize this year’s Reconciliation Week activities. “When we saw in the States with the loss of George Floyd is people realized Black people are being unfairly targeted and killed just for existing. And so the Black Lives Matter movement happened, and here in Canada people realized those statistics are more shocking for Indigenous people. We realized similar things are happening here.”
“With Reconciliation Week,” she added, “it is an opportunity to look past that and understand why that happened, and how can I help? What can I do? It is about building relationships with the elders today, and staff of the local Indigenous community organizations, with the police, whom we invited today, with our elected officials who we have to hold accountable. Some people are unfairly targeted because they have black skin or brown skin, and what are we doing about that? And how can we fix that moving forward? I think we all have to keep moving forward and stay positive for our children.”
As always, to kick off Reconciliation Week activities a special flagraising ceremony was held at city hall on Monday.
Special guests included Elders Peter Weasel Moccasin and Calvin Williams who both expressed their hope that such events could be the foundation of better relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples going forward in the region. Weasel Moccasin also gave a nod toward Treaty 7 Day, which was also marked on Monday, and spoke about how local Indigenous education has advanced since those early years when few Blackfoot could read or write in English; joking that since then the grandchildren of those first signers had “learned to read the fine print” in making agreements with non-Indigenous folk.
Another special guest was Chief Ouray Crowfoot from Siksika Nation whose legendary great-grandfather “Issapommahksika,” Chief Crowfoot, first hosted the signing of Treaty 7 on Blackfoot lands. Metis Local Region 3 president Adam Browning also was present for the flagraising. MLA Shannon Phillips represented the provincial government and Mayor Chris Spearman represented the City of Lethbridge.
Emphasizing the need for mutual respect and equality opportunity, Spearman referenced Elder Weasel Moccasin’s comments about reading the fine print of treaties in his speech to the assembled dignitaries.
“The treaties when they were signed really limited the opportunities and the rights of our Indigenous people,” he acknowledged, “and reconciliation is part of the process and saying, ‘How do we correct that?’ How do we make sure our Indigenous people in our community succeed at the same rates as our non-Indigenous people when it comes to housing, when it comes to employment, and when it comes to all forms of social success? I think we all know we are not there yet.”
Also having an impact on Reconciliation Week this year, as it has had on everything else this summer, is COVID-19. Beebe said most events will be virtual this year to keep participants safe while maintaining opportunities for meaningful interaction between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people with a daily speaker series, virtual demonstrations of local First Nations culture, and various contests.
“This week because of the pandemic we had to do only online or virtual events,” she confirmed. “We have a lot of partner organizations doing things as well. So there are a couple of contests kicking off. You can go to Reconciliation Lethbridge Facebook page for those, or the Reconciliation Advisory Committee page on the City of Lethbridge website, and you can also go to the library’s webpage.”
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