Algonquin Elder Claudette Commanda recalls when the mayor of Ottawa announced the city’s reconciliation plan more than three years ago.
Now that the country is recognizing its first national day for truth and reconciliation, Commanda says she wants to see more action at the municipal level.
“It is encouraging to know that some steps have certainly been taken, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” Commanda said.
In February 2018, the City Council approved a Reconciliation Action Plan in response to the calls for action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The city’s plan outlined 14 initiatives on the themes of culture, employment, children’s service, education and awareness.
The CBC sought an update on these initiatives, but Suzanne Obiorah, who is in charge of indigenous conditions in the city, said she could not speak publicly until she gave a detailed update to city council in October.
“We are in a place where we really want to reflect on the plan and learn from the areas where we have seen progress, identify what potential gaps we have, and work with colleagues and the community,” said Obiorah, who started her role in February 2021
Her service area was established in the fall of 2020 to further promote the city’s commitment to reconciliation with indigenous peoples, women and gender equality, anti-racism, diversity and inclusion.
Commanda, who is Algonquin Anishinabe of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, said that any act of reconciliation should always involve the Algonquin people.
She said it was a good gesture to change the name of Prince of Wales Bridge to Chief William Commanda Bridge after her grandfather, but she is less impressed with a massive land deal.
The ongoing plan by the Algonquins of Ontario, a group provincially and federally recognized to negotiate land claims with the government and their partner Taggart, will create a sustainable community of 45,000 residents called Tewin in the southeastern part of the city.
The city called it reconciliation, but Commanda claimed the special deal excluded some Algonquin First Nations.
“I think there is still time to make a decision on this issue … we need to have our say on everything and everything related to the development of our lands here in the city of Ottawa, said Commanda.
She would also like to see more Algonquin representation around Ottawa in the form of historic plaques and statues of former leaders.
“Because it is, after all, our homeland and we will continue to be here,” she said.
SE | Reconciliation means more representation for indigenous peoples, elders say
Need for concrete action
Lynn Gehl, an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley, said reconciliation means nation to nation, which for her means an equal sharing of land and resources.
“If they want to do something, they can do something concrete and real, such as sharing the tax dollars that come from Algonquin countries,” Gehl said.
Obiorah said there is a commitment to creating a city and workplace that is “safe, welcoming and inclusive for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.”
“At least 40,000 indigenous peoples in the cities have made this their home, and we have an important role to play in the ways we demonstrate our commitment to reconciliation with our staff and the public,” Obiorah said.
She highlighted the city’s work through increased cultural learning for staff, such as webinars for indigenous history months and access to web-based learning sessions hosted by partners from indigenous communities.
Obiorah said a native relations specialist is working with the original working committee to coordinate the progress of the Reconciliation Action Plan, and the next steps will be identified in the report to be shared next month.