Ward 3 councillor blasts City for lagging behind on truth and reconciliation response

Ward 3 Coun. Tony Head speaks during the swearing in ceremony at City Hall in this file photo from November 2020. -- Herald file photo.

A Prince Albert city councillor says the City needs to do more than just lower flags, hold rallies and build new monuments if it wants to have truth and reconciliation.

Ward 3 Coun. Tony Head blasted the City for what he sees as a lack of movement on the 94 calls to action included in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 report. Head told council during the last regular meeting on July 12 that he hasn’t noticed a single positive change in the lives of Indigenous people in his eight months on council. He’s asked administration for a report on what the City is doing to meet those expectations.

“I think we’ve waited and listened enough,” Head said during a phone interview. “I think it’s time to take action. There’s definitely time to move on these calls (to action), and it’s necessary in order for us to see reconciliation.”

Head wants to see three specific calls honoured by the City of Prince Albert—Call 43, which recommends all levels of government adopt the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, Call 47, which recommends governments repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous peoples and lands, and Call 57, which recommends public servants receive education and training about Indigenous history and culture.

“I think it really comes down to the education piece,” Head said during the interview. “People need to understand the treatment of Indigenous people here in our country. That’s important to move forward—to have that empathy for Indigenous people, (and) to understand why they’re there on the streets, struggling and finding it difficult to pick themselves up or find a better way of life.

“It’s difficult and it’s sad because these individuals are broken, and it’s for us to try to work together to bring forward some solution.”

During his speech on July 12, Head told council he was shocked by the number of graves discovered in Kamloops and Cowessess. He said the discoveries hit particularity close to home since his father, Edward, was taken from his parents placed for adoption as part of the Sixties Scoop.

Head said his father had relatives taken as far away as Texas, and they only realized they might be related after a news segment about the family aired on APTN.

While he appreciates the demonstrations, moments of silence, and memorial walks since the findings in Kamloops, Head said Prince Albert needs to look at concrete policy changes that will help Indigenous people in their daily lives.

“I watched communities come together to lower flags, cancel Canada Day, and mourn, but none of that achieves any real change in the lives of those that were harmed,” he told council. “When I say harmed, I want you to understand, that every single Indigenous person in this country bears the scars of what the government did. Every single one.

“In this chamber, we have an obligation to do much more than hold a moment of silence. I would say continued silence from our elected leaders is quite literally killing my people.”

Head said he believes council can work together to make things better, and applauded Couns. Terra Lennox-Zepp and Blake Edwards for bringing forward motions at past meetings to address some of the problems her raised. He also acknowledged that outside organizations in Prince Albert were doing some great work to help reconcile Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

However, he also said racism is “alive and well” in Prince Albert, during his speech, although he declined to single out any specific people who were causing problems when interviewed.

Head said Indigenous residents will tell him stories about dismissive treatment they’ve received in the community, sometimes from City representatives or officials.

“It makes my hair stand up sometimes with some of the things that people hear our other elected leaders say, but is there one particular thing? No,” Head explained. “As a collective group, we should take an opportunity to listen and understand some of the stories as I mentioned. We have several educators on our council as well, and I can definitely see them buying in to the education piece of it.

“I don’t want to target any other councillors, but I think there’s definitely some work that needs to be done at City Hall on truth and reconciliation,” he added. “There needs to be an education piece around how we got here today.”

Mayor Greg Dionne dismissed Head’s suggestion that the City isn’t following the truth and reconciliation recommendations. He pointed to recent appointments of Indigenous residents to high profile positions like the Board of Police Commissioners as a sign the City wanted to listen to Indigenous voices.

When asked to respond directly to some of Head’s comments, Dionne declined, and said the report would show the City of Prince Albert was committed to actions, and not just words.