Pembroke – Renfrew County council has unanimously approved a resolution calling on the county to open a dialogue with the Algonquins of Ontario and Algonquins of Pikwakanagan to advance reconciliation efforts as well as developing training and education opportunities around Indigenous issues.
The motion was brought forward by Deep River Reeve Glen Doncaster and was passed in a recorded vote unanimously. His resolution noted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls on federal, provincial, municipal, and territorial governments to “provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal people, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal Rights, Indigenous law and Aboriginal-Crown relations.”
The resolution added staff should investigate training options for county staff and council that would provide education in these issues.
“And further that staff begin a dialogue with the Algonquins of Ontario and the Algonquins of Pikakwanagan on ways to advance efforts for reconciliation efforts within the County of Renfrew.”
Reeve Doncaster said this is a first step in advancing efforts on reconciliation with the Algonquin people.
“Most importantly, if we are really, truly and meaningfully committed to reconciliation, we need to consider what reconciliation really means,” he wrote. “It is about fundamentally reorienting our relationship with our Indigenous neighbours and finding a new way forward; a way forward that is based on true partnership and equity.”
This is not the first time Reeve Doncaster has raised the importance of engaging all Algonquins in discussions and not solely focusing on Pikwakanagan. The County of Renfrew signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Algonquins of Pikwakangan several years ago, however, little firm progress has been made in the ensuing years on collaborative efforts or economic co-operation. When the county agreed to name the abandoned rail corridor through the county the Algonquin Trail, Reeve Doncaster said all Algonquins should be consulted on this, not just Pikwakanagan.
In speaking with the Leader, the reeve said he has been looking at the importance of reconciliation efforts and dialogue for some time.
“For starters, it is probably a conversation that is long overdue,” he said.
He said he brought forward his resolution because he felt it was important to have “an acknowledgement that the Algonquins were here long before us.”
However, this is more than just an acknowledgement, he admitted.
“It is changing the relationship we have with the 10 Algonquin groups of this area,” he said.
Noting he has been thinking about this issue and how to move it forward for some time, he said this is a first step.
Reeve Doncaster acknowledged there might be some fear or hesitation in the public about what this new relationship might entail.
“I don’t believe the Algonquins want to see every zoning application or land planning change in every municipality,” he said. “That would be overwhelming.
“I think they want a valid recognition they were here before us and they were the keepers of the land and the water,” he said. “I think this will benefit all of us.”
For him, the first step is education and moving on from there.
Engaging all 10 Algonquin groups is important because they have a physical presence throughout the county, he said.
“It is easy for us to engage with the Algonquins of Pikwakangan,” he said. “The other nine communities are not as easily identifiable.”
Prior to his resolution being passed Warden Debbie Robinson had introduced the idea of a reconciliation garden as a legacy project for the County of Renfrew. While Reeve Doncaster said he was supportive, he stressed more consultation with all Algonquins needed to take place. He said he was not sure if even the name reconciliation garden would stand or if it would be an Algonquin cultural garden.
“If the county wants to embark on reconciliation in general it needs to be done throughout the whole organization,” he said. “We need to go farther.”
Reeve Doncaster is not Algonquin, but he feels very strongly about this issue and has for some time.
“It is not up to them,” he said. “It is up to us to do this.”
Earlier in the agenda, Warden Robinson spoke about the Reconciliation Garden. She noted she spoke with Pikwakanagan Chief Wendy Jocko about this idea. The chief was supportive and said she would discuss the initiative with band council, the warden added.
“Last month we heard about 215 children found in unmarked graves in Kamloops and that has impacted heavily on me personally and I think all members of county council,” she said.
The Ontario Winter Games has a legacy project, she said, and this seemed a very appropriate project.
“We need as a county to publicly acknowledge our duty to the Truth and Reconciliation and to the calls for action,” she said.
At the same time the warden said this was just a symbolic gesture.
“I’m under no illusion a garden on the county grounds is going to heal anything, but I do believe it could be a public statement and has the potential to help us move forward,” she said.
The warden said she feels very strongly about the issue and has been touched by the loss of so many children.
“It is indefensible what has happened and what is taking place,” she said.
The next step will be to meet with both the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan and the Algonquins of Ontario, she said. This is a project she wants to see happen by 2022.
“I do very much want to see us move forward with this and make a public statement,” she said. “This is an incredible historic movement I believe.”
Reeve Doncaster said it was important to have collaboration.
“It’s really important for us and for our relationship that we are working together and it is not just our idea and what we think,” he said.
Reeve Peter Emon of Renfrew said all levels of government have been called to action and now is the time for the county to do so.
“Too often we suffer from the Canadian disease of another level of government will do it,” he said. “It’s time for us to demonstrate our leadership locally.”
Reeve Emon said reconciliation is important and the county needs to show leadership on this issue.
“We need to force this issue out into the open and deal with it and let all our communities heal properly,” he said.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader