Sarah Fibke-Van Heinen of Consort, Alta., a newly married junior high school teacher, came to council to present on land acknowledgements and treaties between settlers and aboriginal peoples.
It was requested at a prior meeting that council look closer into the topic to see if they will participate in what some other municipalities do, a land acknowledgement, and to be better informed.
This statement is read before each meeting as well as large scale events in urban centres to “acknowledge the land is an expression of gratitude and appreciation to those whose territory we reside on and a way of honouring the indigenous people who have been living and working on the land from time immemorial.”
Fibke-Van Heinen is of settler descent and teaches Canadian history in-depth.
She went through a brief but thorough history of the Indian Act and what came of it including residential schools and most recently the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission who is tasked with revealing wrong-doing by a government in the hopes of resolving issues left over from the past.
“I believe it’s important to foster a culture of acceptance, tolerance and even a love for diversity. I think the best opportunity we have to embrace an inclusive culture is knowledge and understanding of those who are different than us,” said Fibke-Van Heinen.
This reconciliation is meant to honour both First Nations and settlers to the area.
When Fibke-Van Heinen was about to recite the land acknowledgement, Coun. Lynn Schultz spoke up and declined to have it read.
After the history lesson on the negative impacts of residential schools on the indigenous population, Fibke-Van Heinen recommended visiting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission website where multiple video interviews have been created to further relay the experiences individuals had.
“But I think what we are hearing is just the negative side of it,” said Deputy Mayor Rosella Peterman.
“My cousin and I pastored a native church for a number of years and we have spent time on the reserve in homes when we went back to visit. We have a number of friends who went to residential schools who said those were the happiest years of their lives and we never hear that side of it.”
She continued, “I don’t for one minute doubt that there was horrible things that happened but there was also a lot of good things so we need to have a more balanced view of this rather than just all of the horrible things.”
“How about I come in and teach a full lesson?” jokingly replied Fibke-Van Heinen.
On a more serious note, she said, “I only had 20 minutes and quite frankly in regards to land acknowledgements the good stuff that happened, and make no doubt, it was much smaller in comparison to the number of people who experienced abuse but yes people had excellent experiences in residential schools.
“Keep in mind they were also ripped from their families who were fully capable of caring for them.”
Peterman replied, “They weren’t ripped from their families in this case. They were large families that couldn’t look after their children who actually had other people in the community looking after their children and weren’t well cared for.
“We get fed one picture all of the time and that isn’t the only picture,” said Peterman.
Fibke-Van Heinen felt that the negatives were often pushed to the side and glossed over.
After a brief pause for another agenda item, council launched into a discussion about the presentation they had heard.
Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Theresa Fuller began by noting there was a larger native population in the Bashaw area than one would expect.
“We may think that off the cuff there is not many of them in this area so why should we bother but I am informed that we do have some indigenous families residing in the area and so we have the luxury of being a prevalently white council and prevalently white operation as well in the town of Bashaw.
“My view is that if we don’t at least give this a bit more consideration that we could be skewed as the other side of the spectrum as non-inclusive,” said CAO Fuller.
Mayor Penny Shantz mentioned she had attended a Truth and Reconciliation committee presentation in Edmonton where it was “very insightful and gave a different perspective.”
She asked council to put more thought into their possible decision.
“I don’t really care what people think if I’m racist. I’m not.” began Coun. Lynn Schultz.
“I worked with native people where I was before. I have hired native people and I got along very well with them.
“One of the people I worked with ran to be chief of the Blood Indian Reserve. What I have a problem with is [that] they have their land and we have ours and residential schools and everything I realize were in lots of cases not good but we are always looking back.
“Let’s look forward and see what we can do to make this better. And I don’t think recognizing that this was once aboriginal ground is a way to move forward,” said Schultz.
Coun. Darren Pierson did not comment.
Deputy Mayor Peterman as well as Coun. Rob McDonald voiced neutral opinions.
“I’m really okay either way. I don’t think it has a lot of meaning if we come into council and say that because we are just saying it to each other. We are not saying it to anybody or really acknowledging it to anybody. On the other hand, doesn’t really matter to me one way or the other,” said Peterman.
Schultz was skeptical of the contents of the treaty and how biased the story or residential school experiences are.
“I think lots of times too there is a lot of things in the treaty, a lot of things that I don’t know and we only hear the one side of the story. We never hear about what else is in the treaty,” said Schultz.
“I think Sarah told us a lot of what else is in the treaty today,” said administrator Andrea Benoit.
“Look into the treaty and see,” said Schultz.
“I have,” said Benoit. “A lot.”
“There is a lot more in there than we have heard and what we do hear. I’m not getting into an argument in council,” concluded Schultz.
Council, at the request of Coun. McDonald, went into an in-camera session without a defined section under the Municipal Government Act (MGA).
No motions came from the meeting but it did last 22 minutes in total.
The MGA specifically notes contentious issues must be in the public eye and never in a closed session.
“It wasn’t in alignment with the due process of the MGA,” said CAO Fuller in a post-meeting interview with the ECA Review.
Procedural information will be given at the next meeting for council review.
The conversation has been tabled to a future meeting.
Administration came to council with a few changes in the fireworks bylaw, one of which loosens restrictions when it comes to buying, selling, and storing fireworks within Bashaw.
They proposed removing this section to give businesses the ability to sell and carry fireworks.
Discharging fireworks within town limits would still be prohibited.
Businesses, if interested in selling, will need to supply proof of compliance from the Canadian National Fireworks Association to ensure education has been absorbed before selling.
The town would have the ability to check in on businesses on a request basis as well.
“Basically it means we can work it in conjunction with the Canadian National Fireworks Association where we can obligate the seller to ensure they store things the proper way and also have some educational components for firework sales.”
Administration will provide a copy of the bylaw to interested businesses who request it.
They would in turn call the national association to make sure their space is appropriate for selling and storing.