City of Yellowknife ponders ways it can take on reconciliation through public event

·3 min read
Dëneze Nakehk’o facilitating a group discussion with residents about their ideas on how to implement change in the city.   (Celeste Decaire/CBC - image credit)
Dëneze Nakehk’o facilitating a group discussion with residents about their ideas on how to implement change in the city. (Celeste Decaire/CBC - image credit)

Yellowknife residents filled the room at the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre Wednesday night to discuss ideas on how the city can move toward reconciliation.

The event, "Reconciliation Gathering – Walking Together" was organized by the City of Yellowknife and facilitated by Dëneze Nakehk'o.

Nakehk'o gave opening remarks, beginning by describing how Yellowknife looked before the city was built, saying it was once a place where caribou would migrate by the thousands.

"The city of Yellowknife, where it is now, people weren't supposed to build anything here. They were supposed to leave it pristine because animals used to come here."

Nakehk'o added that the Giant Mine site was once a popular berry-picking area, and Long Lake used to be a fishing lake. Reflecting on the changes to the land, he asked that people break off into small groups to discuss ways the city can better reflect and work with the people it originally belonged to.

While ideas shared among the groups were certainly diverse, the room collectively agreed that listening and learning is the way forward.

Jean Tuyishime and his wife Angélique moved to Yellowknife 18 years ago from Rwanda. They said from their own experience, they've seen many newcomers come to the city to work and not enough of them branch out to learn about the treaties or the history in the N.W.T.

Celeste Decaire/CBC
Celeste Decaire/CBC

Jean suggests a way to change that could start with employers providing regular programming or classes to teach about the history of residential schools.

"Once a month, or something like that, they [employers] have to show us that they've done something to teach their employees about reconciliation," Jean said.

Having lived and grown up in a country where they have witnessed genocide, the couple says its important to them to get involved in local affairs that address the cultural wrongdoings to Indigenous groups in Yellowknife.

"We've seen first hand what can be the result when you do not work on reconciliation, or work on these big issues," Jean said.

'Does it need to have a reconciliation lens?'

Among the group, sat Mayor Rebecca Alty. She says the city has taken a number of actions, like putting up stop signs in both English and  Wıı̀lıı̀deh, and worked with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation to create a joint economic development strategy during the pandemic.

Celeste Decaire/CBC
Celeste Decaire/CBC

Alty acknowledges that while changing a stop sign is only a visual impact, it's a start. She adds that moving forward means looking at any and all situations where reconciliation can be made in the city.

"Have we looked at that with the reconciliation lens? Does it need to have a reconciliation lens?"

"I think that's where with time, our maturity and thinking will be able to advance and we'll be able to to make some some stronger actions."

The city has also been working with the N.W.T. government to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Action #82, which calls on all provincial and territorial governments to put up a monument in honour of residential school survivors in all capital cities.