Mayor and members of Edmonton City Council:
On the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, I am writing to acknowledge the recent support I received from the Edmonton Heritage Council (EHC) to attend and present at the 2018 National Council on Public History Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. At the conference, I presented as part of a panel discussion including Indigenous representatives from across Turtle Island speaking about project-based reconciliation work. I was able to share information about my volunteer work with RISE – Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton here in our city. The funding I received through the travel grant from EHC supported my trip and helped to strengthen many of my national relationships in the heritage community.
While I appreciate the support I received for this travel, I am very concerned with the overall lack of effort from the EHC to support reconciliation in Edmonton. Specifically, EHC is not doing enough to challenge the dominant colonial settler narrative that plagues our understanding of our city’s past and present and continues to focus on enforcing this narrative. The EHC is the City of Edmonton’s agency mandated to animate the stories of our city and is funded through operating support from Edmonton City Council. As such, I believe it should be aligned with the City’s commitments to broad societal change, like reconciliation. Within Edmonton’s heritage community, EHC has the ability to be an influencer and leader. As a funder of heritage organizations, EHC has the ability to lead others in the sector to also change the narrative presented to Edmontonians. If EHC chooses to perpetuate the fur trade and pioneer story of Edmonton’s beginnings and focus their resources solely on saving old buildings, EHC sets a tone for the rest of the heritage sector to say protecting this narrative is what is important.
The work of reconciliation is about systemic change which requires concerted efforts with targeted investment. For me, reconciliation starts with recognition that the way we have been doing things has marginalized and disregarded Indigenous experiences and voices – then making intentional efforts to ensure those perspectives to be included and elevated. If the City of Edmonton is actually committed to reconciliation and inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in the civic life of our city, you must demand this same commitment from the boards, agencies, and commissions you fund.
I will continue to watch and publicly reflect on reconciliation efforts in our city. I will monitor how the City of Edmonton, through decisions made at City Council, make long term changes and resource investments that lead to further inclusion of Indigenous perspectives. Like many Indigenous people in our city, I am still waiting to see if the commitment to reconciliation from my municipal government is just talk or if a generation from now, real change will be evident.
The preceding letter was sent to all members of Edmonton City Council, along with the Edmonton Heritage Council Executive Director and Board Chair on August 9, 2018 to meet the final reporting requirements of a grant.