EDMONTON — A utility company says contract staff have been fired for making racist comments during a smudging ceremony at an Edmonton public school.
Epcor says school officials reported that students and staff heard construction workers swearing, using racist language and running their equipment during the ceremony last week at Edith Rogers School, which teaches students from Grades 7 to 9.
The workers were at a dry pond project across from where the students were participating in the smudging ritual in which Indigenous peoples burn sacred herbs and medicines for cleansing or health purposes.
“EPCOR does not condone racism or hate of any kind, and we thank the students and staff who brought this incident to our attention,” the company said in a statement Tuesday.
The company said the workers were with a sub-contractor, Wilco Contractors Northwest, and under the control of Sureway Construction Group.
Epcor, Wilco and Sureway said they will together donate $30,000 to the Edmonton Public School Board’s amiskwaciy Academy, a junior and senior high school that offers Indigenous programming.
Wilco said in a separate statement that it has fired the workers involved and that racism will not be tolerated.
“The hurt experienced by the students and staff is front of mind for us, and we hope the actions we are taking demonstrate to them how seriously we take this situation,” Wilco said.
Edmonton Public Schools said it was waiting to notify parents before releasing a comment on Epcor’s decision.
In an earlier statement, the public school’s spokeswoman, Carrie Rosa, said: “Edmonton Public Schools is committed to truth and reconciliation by providing a variety of learning experiences in all of our schools, which includes events like Friday’s smudging.”
“We aspire for all of our learning and working environments to be free from hatred, racism and hurt. That’s why what happened at Edith Rogers School was so deeply unsettling and unacceptable for our staff and students who were participating in the smudging ceremony.”
Epcor shut down the construction site last week and said work would resume after an investigation was complete.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2020.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press