An anti-racism group in Williams Lake is calling on the city to allocate $80,000 to $100,00 and human resources annually toward Indigenous relations and reconciliation.
Venta Rutkauskas, Hannah Diether and Massimo Calabrese with Cariboo Chilcotin CARE made the request at a committee of the whole meeting held Tuesday, April 12.
Quoting from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls For Action’s (TRC) directive for professional development and training for public services, Rutkauskas said everyone needs to educate themselves on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, treaties and Aboriginal rights, law and foundations.
“This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights and anti-racism – it’s a big call to action and we want to begin with this because it’s a call to action that is a powerful directive to all of us.”
Just over two months ago, under the direction of Mayor Walt Cobb, council formed an Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Committee (IRRC) that is being chaired by Coun. Marnie Brenner who is First Nations herself.
Rutkauskas said the group is asking the city to build on the work of the committee by possibly adding a staff person to increase capacity and ensure future councils remain committed to relationship building and potential partnerships with First Nations.
“It would also exemplify to the First Nations that the city of Williams Lake is taking this process seriously.”
Diether shared examples from other jurisdictions that have hired a consultant, created a staff position to the lead the work or embedded the process in many departments through policy changes and relationship building 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 the leaders to announce the TRC’s Calls to Action. For council and the city of Williams Lake as a governing body we would hope to see a broad scope of approaches and initiatives and willingness to address the inequities that stem from long-standing racial injustices.”
The group would like to see the city centre Indigenous relations and anti-racism culture in all work spaces, she added.
Calabrese, appearing by video, cited examples from different cities, including Kamloops who collaborated with Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc on a plan to act on the TRC’s Calls for Action.
“Their action plan focuses on those calls specific to language and culture.”
In direct response to TRC call number 57, which Calabrese said they based their presentation on, the city of Kamloops has provided cultural competency training to all city staff, marked important occasions like the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, provided volunteer and catering services for memorial and honouring victims of residential schools, created a local First Nations history and culture section on the city’s website as well as a number of initiatives.
“Williams Lake city council has already taken initial steps toward cultural competency training for council and staff and projects like Nekw7usem Bridge and the Williams Lake Community Forest are great examples of joint initiatives already in place.”
Rutkauskas also said if council refers their request to a committee meeting, that the group be allowed to meet with the committee.
Thanking the group for the “great, great” presentation, Mayor Walt Cobb said council has 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 decisions are voted on, it was received for information and referred to the city’s Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Committee.
“One of the things we’ve learned is that we are extraordinarily blessed as a region to have so many First Nation bands around us,” said Coun. Scott Nelson, adding the collaboration with Williams Lake First Nation on the community forest has given both the communities $2.5 million in the last three years.
Nelson said at some point the city will have a staff position dedicated toward Indigenous relations and reconciliation and is presently engaging with First Nations communities to help develop the city’s reconciliation committee.
Coun. Jason Ryll said council has been talking about a lot of the same issues covered in the presentation and asked if the group could share its written notes with council because there are some “actionable” items that would be important for council not to lose sight of.
Ryll made a motion that the city of Williams Lake integrate a financial line item of $100,000 in the annual budget to be used for reconciliation and engagement with First Nations.
“By baking it into our annual budget and operations I think is more than a gesture. It is proof that we are doing everything we can along with the recommendations that come from the IRRC to try to move forward toward reconciliation.”
His motion was not passed, however, Brenner said that does not mean the city is not looking at other opportunities to get a staff position.
Brenner said the community wants to move forward, but cannot without consulting with Indigenous communities.
“Unless we have local Indigenous input we can’t moved forward. We need to engage and that is what we are doing. We are engaging behind the scenes. There are things that need to be done in a way that builds trust,” Brenner said.
Cobb noted when the IRRC was established it was understood it was just the beginning.
“It is not going to be an easy road or 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 has started to do at this stage of the game.”