Indigenous reconciliation is a delicate balance for the city of Ottawa

As council considers passing its cultural protocol and implementation plan, a failed proposal to rename Wellington St. is a reminder that sensitivity is crucial

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Wellington Street was on the road to becoming “Reconciliation Boulevard” earlier this year, but Mayor Jim Watson pulled his proposal after receiving mixed reviews from local Algonquin leaders.

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The mayor pitched the renaming of arguably the capital region’s most important street — one that the City of Ottawa is trying to unload on the federal government — two months before the city released a major policy on a civic cultural protocol with the Anishinabe Algonquin Nation.

Until recently, the proposal was kept under wraps.

The idea was first broached during a virtual meeting between Watson and Algonquin community leaders on Jan. 17. It was met with suspicion from one of the leaders in attendance.

During a recent community and protective services committee meeting, Dylan Whiteduck, chief of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, told councilors that he challenged the mayor at that January meeting, asking Watson what reconciliation meant to him.

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According to Whiteduck, Watson didn’t have an answer, and the chief urged councilors not to be “caught empty-handed” when someone asks about the significance of reconciliation.

“If we can’t even answer that simple question, then we can’t move forward,” Whiteduck told the committee.

The mayor pulled the naming proposal on Jan. 23, six days after his meeting with the Algonquin leaders, and just a short time before trucks started occupying Wellington Street and surrounding roads as part of the Freedom Convoy.

The failed proposal highlights the sensitivity and mindfulness with which the city must approach initiatives that it believes are actions of reconciliation with Indigenous communities.

It’s something for councilors to keep in mind as council debates the cultural protocol and implementation plan next Wednesday, an historic policy that would improve consultations with Algonquin communities and welcome more influence of Indigenous elders and leaders in the business of city governance.

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The protocol would guide consultations with the Anishinabe Algonquin Nation, make sure the nation’s people are involved in municipal cultural initiatives and educate Ottawa residents about the nation and its history.

The protocol also attempts to keep open lines of communication between city hall and the Anishinabe Algonquin Nation.

Two Algonquin Anishinabe flags (center) were raised at Ottawa City Hall in 2016.
Two Algonquin Anishinabe flags (center) were raised at Ottawa City Hall in 2016. Photo by Julie Oliver /post media

Part of the protocol’s four-year implementation plan calls for an ex-officio member of city council to be named from the Indigenous community, a proposal from the Anishinabe Algonquin Nation accepted by city staff.

Dan Chenier, the general manager who oversees the city’s cultural programs, said the member would act as an “honourary advisor” in matters that concern the Anishinabe Algonquin Nation, “and to bring the knowledge, expertise and experience of Anishinabe Algonquin elders to members of city ​​council.”

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The city would work with elders, the Anishinabe Algonquin Consultative Culture Circle and with Anishinabe Algonquin Nation organizations to determine a member selection process, Chenier said.

Despite having a seat at the council table, the intention is not to give the member a vote on council business.

“Details of ex-officio elder duties, responsibilities, expectations, rights and limits will be the subject of further discussions before implementation,” Chenier said.

Dan Chenier is General Manager of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services for the city of Ottawa.
Dan Chenier is General Manager of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services for the city of Ottawa. Photo by Julie Oliver /post media

The city is unaware of another Canadian municipality that has appointed an ex-officio council member from the Indigenous community.

The protocol implementation plan also includes actions related to archaeology, archiving records and artefacts, commemorations, heritage, cultural funding, mapping, art, libraries, research, language and municipal facilities.

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For example, the city’s recreation, culture and facilities department will be tasked with removing Indigenous-themed mascots, symbols, names and imagery related to non-Indigenous sports organizations.

A five-year plan for arts, heritage and culture and the 2018 city reconciliation action plan set the groundwork for a protocol recognizing the Anishinabe Algonquin Nation, whose territory on which the City of Ottawa is built. It has been under development since 2016.

Since then, the city has woven acknowledgments of the Algonquin host nation into municipal facilities and new projects. There are Anishinabe Algonquin Nation flags at city hall and those chairing council and committee meetings often read an honoring statement at the beginning.

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The city has encouraged Indigenous artists to submit works to be included in the city art collection. More recently, the city has issued expressions of interest for works by Algonquin and Inuit artists at the future Ādisōke super library on LeBreton Flats. (The city and its development partner Library and Archives Canada chose the Algonquin word, which refers to the telling of stories, as the facility’s name).

The city also changed the name of an interprovincial rail bridge that is being converted into a multi-use path over the Ottawa River near Lemieux Island, to Chief William Commanda Bridge in honor of the late Algonquin elder. A pedestrian bridge over the Rideau River that opened in 2015 is named Adàwe, an Algonquin term meaning “to trade.”

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A consultation circle of elders and other representatives of the 11 federally recognized Anishinabe Algonquin First Nations will monitor the protocol and provide guidance to city departments.

The new protocol received the endorsement of Algonquin leaders who attended the community and protective services committee meeting last month.

McGregor said the protocol “sets the bar to future working relations and that is key to moving forward in a good way that truly honors the Anishinabe Algonquin Nation.”

Grand Chief Lisa Robinson of the Algonquin Nation Programs and Services Secretariat called it “a momentous day” and a “start of something good.”

Whiteduck also supported the protocol

Ottawa residents should know “this is a one good step toward reconciliation,” Whiteduck said.

City of Ottawa’s honoring statement

“Ottawa is built on unceded Anishinabe Algonquin territory.

The peoples of the Anishinabe Algonquin Nation have lived on this territory for millennia.

Their culture and presence have nurtured and continue to nurture this land.

The City of Ottawa honors the peoples and land of the Anishinabe Algonquin Nation.

The City of Ottawa honors all First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and their valuable past and present contributions to this land.”

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