By Tim Kalinowski on January 16, 2021.
City council approved $435,000 over three years to help fund initiatives arising from the Reconciliation Lethbridge Advisory Committee’s local calls-to-action emanating from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Women and Girls report during Tuesday’s council meeting.
Council was supposed to have heard a presentation from the group during the Sept. 28 Community Issues Committee meeting of city council where they would have formally made a request for funding prior to November’s budget discussions.
However with furor in the city growing at the time over the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Site pop-up tent, a majority of councillors instead chose to sideline the presenters, and actually sent the group, mainly made up of Indigenous women calling for action on their missing and murdered loved ones, out of council chambers so anti-LOPS protesters outside city hall could come in and hear a presentation from the City’s bylaw officer on enforcement mechanisms and ticketing.
Council received a formal letter of complaint from the Reconciliation Lethbridge Advisory Committee in October for taking actions at that CIC meeting which seemed to suggest the LOPS issue was of greater importance than the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls to most city councillors.
At the time of receiving that letter, council voted to formally apologize to the women who were sent out of council chambers and the members of Reconciliation Lethbridge Advisory Committee who were sidelined that day.
During Tuesday’s debate on whether or not the funding should be allocated for the committee’s important work, Deputy Mayor Rob Miyashiro reminded councillors of their responsibility in those events, and why the request for funding had not been dealt with prior to budget discussions in November.
Coun. Belinda Crowson also reminded councillors they had asked the committee to do this work and come back with workable recommendations, which they had.
Councillors Ryan Parker and Blaine Hyggen said while they appreciated the efforts of the committee, and understood the importance of the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, that $435,000 over three years was too much to spend on that work, and that issue, with the city facing difficult economic circumstances at the moment.
The majority of city councillors disagreed, and voted 6-3 to approve the funding. Coun. Joe Mauro joined with Parker and Hyggen in opposing the motion.
City of Lethbridge Indigenous Relations co-ordinator Pamela Beebe thanked council for putting money on the table, and thereby walking the walk, to support the local calls for action on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirited people.
“I am thrilled it was approved,” she said. “I was concerned when they were raising objections because budget deliberations were held in November, but we were all well aware we would be in this situation.”
Beebe said the reluctance of some on council to fund this work, and the events of the Sept. 28 CIC meeting, illustrate why we still have a long way to go in Lethbridge before true reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the community is possible.
“It shows us there is clearly still an urgent need for cultural education in the city,” she said. “It is extremely difficult, and weighs heavy on our shoulders, to constantly have to try to teach about that respect, and teach about that dignity. When that (Sept. 28) incident occurred, obviously First Nations women specifically, who this (work) is directly addressing, they felt extremely disrespected because they were asked to leave the chambers, and were told (due to COVID restrictions) they can’t come in, and yet they came to specifically talk about this issue. And they had to wait hours, and some of them were missing work (to be there).”
Perry Stein, Indigenous Relations advisor with the City of Lethbridge, said the Reconciliation Lethbridge Advisory Committee, now funded for their work on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, intends to move forward from here on a work plan to implement their local calls-to-action within the City.
“There are 25 different recommendation areas we are working in that focus on economic security, social empowerment, economic empowerment,” said Stein. “So much of the work of the National Inquiry was focused on the safety and security of Indigenous women and girls, and that is in an economic, social, cultural, and physical sense.
“We have tried to take a very comprehensive approach in working through those recommendations and calls for justice so we will be,” he added, “creating economic opportunities for Indigenous peoples in the city, whether that is employment opportunities or business opportunities through procurement and purchasing. Creating additional safety and security by creating things like safe harbour locations for Indigenous peoples who are at risk of harm. Creating Indigenous awareness training for all City of Lethbridge employees.
“And by trying to be a model in the community so other organizations and individual residents in the city can have their own information which helps them on their reconciliation awareness-raising journey too.”
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