A Williams Lake anti-racism group is calling on the city to allocate between $80,000 and $100,000 annually and human resources for Indigenous relations and reconciliation.
Venta Rutkauskas, Hannah Diether and Massimo Calabrese of Cariboo Chilcotin CARE made the request during a committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday, April 12.
Citing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action (TRC) directive for professional development and training for public services, Rutkauskas said everyone needs to learn about the history of the peoples including the history of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, treaties and Aboriginal rights, laws and foundations.
“This will require skills-based training in intercultural competence, conflict resolution, human rights and anti-racism – this is a big call to action and we want to start with this because it is a call to action that is a powerful directive for all of us.”
Just over two months ago, under the leadership of Mayor Walt Cobb, council formed an Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Committee (IRRC) which is chaired by council. Marnie Brenner, who is herself a First Nations person.
Rutkauskas said the group is asking the city to build on the committee’s work by possibly adding a staff member to increase capacity and ensure future councils stay engaged in building relationships and potential partnerships. with First Nations.
“It would also show First Nations that the Town of Williams Lake takes this process seriously.
Diether shared examples of other jurisdictions that have hired a consultant, created a position to lead the work, or embedded the process in many departments through policy changes and building relationships with allocated funds.
At the heart of the request is people’s lives, she added.
“We all have a responsibility to decolonize our own lives and call on leaders to announce the TRC’s calls to action. For the council and the City of Williams Lake as a governing body, we hope to see a broad range of approaches and initiatives and a willingness to address inequities that stem from long-standing racial injustices.
The group would like to see downtown Indigenous relations and anti-racism culture in all workspaces, she added.
Calabrese, appearing via video, cited examples of different cities, including Kamloops collaborating with Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc on a plan to act on the TRC’s calls to action.
“Their action plan focuses on language and culture specific appeals.”
In direct response to TRC call number 57, on which Calabrese said he based his presentation, the City of Kamloops provided cultural competency training to all city staff, marked important occasions like the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, provided volunteer and restoration services to commemorate and honor the victims of Indian residential schools, created a local section on First Nations history and culture on the city as well as a number of initiatives.
“Williams Lake City Council has already taken the first steps toward cultural competency training for council and staff, and projects like the Nekw7usem Bridge and the Williams Lake Community Forest are great examples of such initiatives. already in place.
Rutkauskas also said that if the board deferred its request to a committee meeting, the group would be allowed to meet with the committee.
Thanking the group for the “great, great” presentation, Mayor Walt Cobb said the council had been working on some of the same ideas for a long time.
As the presentation was given during a committee of the whole, when no decision is voted on, it was received for information and referred to the town’s Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Committee.
“One of the things we’ve learned is that we’re extraordinarily blessed as a region to have so many First Nations bands around us,” the Coun said. Scott Nelson, adding that working with Williams Lake First Nation on the community forest has given the two communities $2.5 million over the past three years.
Nelson said that at some point the city will have a staff position dedicated to Indigenous relations and reconciliation and is currently engaging with First Nations communities to help develop the city’s reconciliation committee.
Com. Jason Ryll said the board talked about many of the same issues covered in the presentation and asked if the group could share their written notes with the board as there are “doable” items that would be important. that the council does not lose sight of.
Ryll proposed that the Town of Williams Lake include a financial line item of $100,000 in the annual budget to be used for reconciliation and engagement with First Nations.
“By making it part of our annual budget and our operations, I think it’s more than a gesture. It’s proof that we are doing everything we can with the recommendations that come from the IRRC to try to move towards reconciliation.
His motion didn’t pass, however, Brenner said that doesn’t mean the city isn’t looking for other opportunities to secure a staff position.
Brenner said the community wants to move forward, but cannot without consultation with Indigenous communities.
“Unless we have input from local Aboriginal people, we cannot move forward. We have to commit and that is what we are doing. We go behind the scenes. There are things that need to be done in a way that builds trust,” Brenner said.
Cobb noted that when the IRRC was created, it was understood that it was just the beginning.
“It won’t be an easy road or a short road,” he said.
“It takes a long, long time to build relationships. I think before you can get into partnerships or business opportunities, you have to build relationships and that’s what the committee started doing at this stage of the game.”
READ MORE: The Tsilhqot’in Nation continues its journey to heal residential schools
Indigenous ReconciliationWilliams Lake