Reconciliation is fast becoming a common word in Edmonton’s neighbourhoods. There is a clear desire to address the mistreatment of Indigenous people and create opportunities for connection between diverse people who call a neighbourhood home.
A manifestation of this desire can be seen in the Community League Day event held this past month by the Prince Charles Community League. The idea was initiated by Eleanor van Gunst, a woman of Métis heritage, who is doing a Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology practicum at the Edmonton Native Healing Center, located in Prince Charles neighbourhood and leading the Prince Charles Abundant Community Initiative as a neighbourhood connector.
Eleanor reached out to her Community Recreation Coordinator (CRC) Allyson Szafranski to discuss her idea. Allyson was able to enrich the event idea by offering connections to the City equipment rental team, providing park permits and resourcing through the Neighbourhood Engagement Fund and suggesting that other local community groups – like The Prince Charles Fiddlers – could also be involved.
“Building community is the crux of what we do, but it is local residents like Eleanor who make our work meaningful,” explains Allyson Szafranski. “As we move forward in an era of truth and reconciliation, it is so important to support community leagues and other neighbourhood groups to build relationships with Indigenous residents in a meaningful way. We are here to help that happen.”
Eleanor served as a bridge between the Native Healing Center and the local community group to discuss the opportunity for a Community League Day event. The entire Prince Charles Community League Board jumped on board immediately, as they saw this as an opportunity to engage more local neighbourhood residents who identify as First Nations, Inuit or Métis.
The two groups decided it was important to have an Indigenous Elder involved to help direct the event and ensure care for the needs of the Indigenous community. Francis Whiskeyjack, a Cree Elder with a history of supporting community activities like the Amiskwaciy Academy, fit the bill perfectly!
Whiskeyjack brought the Indigenous leadership that was necessary for the event to be a success. He suggested smudging the park to acknowledge the death of the youth who passed away by suicide and clearing the space for the community to come together with care and comfort for each other.
On the day of the event, the Prince Charles park was filled by members of the community league who set up the picnic tables, laid out refreshments and welcomed residents as they began to show up. Frances Whiskeyjack started the event with a smudge, drawing emotion from the group and setting the tone for the healing the event intended to invoke. When building the teepee, Whiskeyjack was able to involve attendees in the process, creating a hands-on way to learn about Indigenous culture and the significance of the teepee’s structure.
In addition to the teepee build, the day was rounded out with the City of Edmonton Recreation Equipment Loan Program providing an Indigenous Games Kit, including fire barrels and bannock making tools. The Prince Charles Fiddlers – a Métis inspired youth group – came along later in the event to share their talents with the community. The atmosphere was one of care and joy, bringing out more than 150 people to get to know each other as neighbours.
As we continue to move ahead with reconciliation, the involvement and leadership of Indigenous people is invaluable to direct the way. Edmonton neighbourhoods and community leagues have an important role to play to build local relationships and support opportunities for the care and connection to be established; valuing Indigenous community members and culture in our neighbourhood identity as they should be.