On Monday night, Yellowknife city council voted unanimously to adopt six of the 99 recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The vote came as the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation arrived in town to consult with former residential school students on how their stories should best be presented.
“I think it’s important for all orders of government to have a long hard look at the report and see what they can do,” Mayor Mark Heyck tells EDGE. “Council feels this is an important step to start the process of healing and reconciliation.”
The six recommendations had been identified by the NWT Association of Communities as relevant to municipal governments in the territory. Here they are, as they appeared in the City’s motion:
• Article 43: Adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
• Article 47: The Mayor correspond with the GNWT to ensure that any and all laws that rely upon the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius are repudiated.
• Article 57: That funding be identified for the provision of skill‐based training for all City staff to undergo that will provide a learning experience on the history of Aboriginal peoples relating to residential schools; UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; Treaties and Aboriginal Rights, Indigenous Law; and, Aboriginal–Crown relations.
• Articles 75, 76 and 77:The Mayor correspond with the GNWT and School Boards encouraging them to ensure that they provide any and all information pertaining to identification, documentation, maintenance, commemoration, and protection of residential school cemeteries/sites where residential school children are buried, and for them to provide all known records to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
From the City’s perspective, the most important recommendation is the one pertaining to education, says Heyck. In the coming months, administration will be looking for educators to train City staff and introduce a curriculum so new staff will receive training when they start at City Hall. Heyck says city administration is looking for external funding from other levels of government and organizations to help pay for the training, but he expects the council will agree to fund it from the City’s own budget if no outside money is available.
As for the letters, Heyck, says he’s planning to pen them as soon as possible. The one letter denouncing the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius – the idea Canada was empty when Europeans arrived – sounds like it could make for dense reading. But Heyck says the main point is fairly simple.
“I think there’s recognition not only through the work of the TRC, but through the courts and the Canadian constitution that First Nations have an inherent right to self-government. Treaty 8 and Treaty 11 speak to that. This is just a reinforcement of what we’ve begun to recognize.”
As he said during Monday’s meeting, recalling the words of a speaker from a recent conference: “Regardless of whether we’re Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, we’re all treaty people. Because the treaties didn’t simply apply to first nations but were made with First Nations on behalf of the rest of the country.”
When the issue was first discussed at a municipal services committee meeting in September, some councillors expressed concern that administration had not reached out to members of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation about the motion. But Heyck says this relationship will be key moving forward.
“We speak with and meet with the Yellowknives Dene on a range of issues, and in respect to this, whomever we enlist to teach our courses will have an ongoing relationship with the YKDFN. There are a lot of elders who have a lot to offer in terms of life experiences, and we hope to hear from them.”