June 16th, 2024

SouthGrow hosting Truth and Reconciliation training Wednesday

By Cal Braid - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on November 29, 2022.

SouthGrow Regional Initiative will be hosting a Truth and Reconciliation training event on Nov. 30 in Standoff. Francis First Charger, whose Blackfoot name is Owl Chief (Ninaisipistoo), is the presenter. He provides cultural sensitivity training that aims to break down barriers to racial understanding.

“Our institutions, municipalities, and government have to know about our history, the residential schools, and some of the policies that have affected us,” he said. “(The training) goes into our Blackfoot way, our history, and who we are, and this is reflected in the Blackfoot ways of life. We want to educate them to understand why we are the way we are.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s Call to Action #57 asks federal, provincial, territorial, and├é┬ámunicipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples.

“I’m going to talk about the truth about the way things are. I’m going to talk a little bit about discrimination and racism in southern Alberta and how it affects us,” First Charger said, noting that many may not recognize the ways in which the Blackfoot people contribute to the economy and the community. “I want them to know that we exist. We’re a part of society. This is Blackfoot territory, our territory. This is like a nation within a nation. If you get to know about the people, we can better understand and work with each other. That’s what I’d like to be able to pass on.”

It’s a strong statement that he makes, and in the outline for the day’s programming is the inclusion of a section called ‘The Path Forward.’ He said that a big part of moving forward is understanding who the Blackfoot are, what their history is, and showing respect.

“People don’t know a lot of the stuff we’re doing right now. Like the processing plant-we’re the biggest exporters of timothy (hay) in North America. We’re in the international market. No longer are we what you see in history, the stereotype. A lot of people don’t realize that we’ve become so advanced. We’re the state of the art technology in our exports.”

Blood Tribe Forage Processing is on Highway 509 northeast of Standoff.

“I want to tell the attendees to look it up on the internet themselves. It’s quite a big operation. It provides revenue for the tribe.”

SouthGrow is a local organization that does regional economic development. Executive director Peter Casurella has been in his role there for five years and said, “Our mandate is to build collaborations across the region that can pull off big projects which impact everyone’s quality of life.”

Casurella says SouthGrow is always responsive to the kinds of programming that members need and want in southern Alberta.

“One of the things that SouthGrow does is we provide relevant training that speaks to the needs of the time; to our councillors, municipal staff, and other stakeholders across the region. It’s usually people who work in institutions, non-profits, or businesses who have a regional scope and are interested in these kinds of things,” he said. “This year the board decided that we need to get more on top of Truth and Reconciliation and what it really means for our communities. There’s a shockingly low amount of understanding of what it means in our individual lives and how we can each participate in it. The Blood Tribe is a member of our organization, so we have the expertise and knowledge right there and available. We reached out they said, ‘Yes, of course. We’ll host you.'”

He said the purpose of the training is threefold.

“Number one, it’s the right thing to do. There’s a genuine societal need to be met here. Number two, it’s our primary mission to build collaboration. Building relationships and understanding across our communities just helps across the board. Number three, it helps address a chronic labour issue,” said Casurella, in reference to the combination of low unemployment and worker shortages that create a gap in business productivity. “By promoting understanding between racialized groups in southern Alberta, it helps our municipal staff to look at things differently and tap into a labour market that they may have been hesitant to in the past.”

SouthGrow is invested in seeing the Blood Tribe succeed in the future.

“Labour is the biggest issue here. The Blood Tribe has the youngest population in the region and they’ve got a lot of talent that is under-tapped and under-utilized. The Blood Tribe council has an ambitious vision for pulling their people forward, getting them involved in the regional economy, and giving their people the same opportunities that you and I have. We have a strong interest both socially and economically in being part of that.”

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