Despite the many challenges of reconciliation with First Nations across Canada, whether in the pipeline battles, the lack of safe drinking water or the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, there are some signs of hope.
While the road to reconciliation is a long and arduous one, delayed by government after government who have failed to make it a priority, one particular municipality in Northern Alberta is making substantial strides in the right direction.
The Municipal District of Opportunity #17 is teaming up with local Indigenous groups to apply for recognition as an Indigenous municipality.
With 90% of the municipality’s population identifying as Indigenous, the move to obtain recognition and improve local funding opportunities makes good sense to local leadership.
Local MP David Yurdiga has been encouraging the move in the community over the past few years and is happy to see both municipal and Indigenous leaders teaming up to take action on this issue.
“This will help the next generation of moving forward,” Yurdiga told The Post Millennial in a phone interview. Citing the prospect of increased funding for the region, Yurdiga pointed out that this move could help increase educational opportunities for local youth, possibly in the form of upgraded schools and community centres.
“When they’re coming up in school, they will get the tools they need to be prosperous, and safe. I think that that will make a big difference.”
While Canada routinely lands on the top 10 lists for “Best countries to live in,” the high standards of Canadian living often do not extend to reserve communities. Poor infrastructure, lack of local education opportunities, exacerbated by a 47 percent child poverty rate amongst Indigenous Canadians have left many living in unacceptable conditions.
On reserves, that number increases to about three times the national average, at 53 percent.
Better roads, education and healthcare facilities are among the many needs that can be addressed along with higher funding and a more efficient partnership between the municipality and local reserves.
The special recognition “would allow us to access to grant and maybe even operating dollars to help service people,” says Bigstone Cree Nation member, Marcel Auger.
Auger also mentioned that the provincial government is aware of the effort to achieve official Indigenous recognition and is looking into the matter.
“We’ve actually shared this idea with our Premier Mr. Kenney already, to maybe look at doing a joint project and making one really good junior and high school in the community,” said Auger.
In addition, a $25-million long-term care facility is being considered after half-a-decade of ‘nickel negotiating’ with the previous government.
“It’s been too long that we’ve been kind of a little bit neglected and in the shadow all the time. We almost feel like the forgotten people in this north-central part of the province.”
The timely government evacuations from the recent Alberta wildfires was a testament to the government remembering its obligations to all Albertans. And yes, those on reserve lands matter too.
Their resiliency demonstrated volumes in the aftermath of tragedy. The peoples of Bigstone Cree Nation remain resilient, holding renewed optimism in the future, under a new leadership.
“We’re seeing a lot more positive [developments] that way than we have, you know, from the changeover in government in the province. Kenney’s Conservative government, you know, they’ve actually been really good in being forthcoming with us, even getting in touch before the election,” said Auger.
While Reconciliation still has a long way to go across the country, it’s encouraging to see small steps like this one take place.