Siksika Nation and Strathmore anti-racism agreement making progress after COVID-19 delays

·3 min read
Siksika Coun. Reuben Breaker says talks have resumed with the Town of Strathmore to address racism in the rural community. (Dan McGarvey/CBC - image credit)
Siksika Coun. Reuben Breaker says talks have resumed with the Town of Strathmore to address racism in the rural community. (Dan McGarvey/CBC - image credit)

An anti-racism partnership between the Town of Strathmore and the nearby Siksika First Nation is gaining momentum after delays in the past year due to COVID-19.

The two groups resumed meetings last week as part of a partnership formed following the shooting death of a young Sikiska man in the town in March 2019.

The partnership was formed to address a longer history of racism in the town and countless incidents between visiting Siksika band members and Strathmore locals.

The two groups were back around the table March 12 to resume talks about racism and improving community relations.

"It's so many incidents over the years that our people have endured and that have been swept under the rug because when it's reported, we're used to nothing being done," said Siksika Coun. Reuben Breaker.

"Being followed around at Walmart or gas station attendants not wanting to serve, people driving by doing a yodel, like a war cry, it's things like this that our people are used to, but it gets tiresome."

Breaker said racism was rare when he was growing up in the area and Strathmore was smaller.

Long-term solutions

He said it's a problem that isn't going away, but it's worth fighting back against it.

Breaker said the partnership and plan is about finding long-term solutions that will span different councils on both sides.

"We're blessed that Strathmore council have been supportive and went so far as coming up with a memorandum of understanding agreement to work together," Breaker said.

"What we're seeing all over the province and south of the border, that type of mindset is contagious and you don't have to look far to see it in our communities."

Key areas of focus have been identified around areas like education, sports, housing, economic development, health-care and human services.

"We've had to take a back seat for a while, but we've recently started to meet again," said Strathmore Mayor Pat Fule.

"We've split off into different committees and subcommittees to brainstorm on things to suggest, from signage in town to cultural training for store owners."

Strathmore Mayor Pat Fule upset some residents when he wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper about racism in the community.
Strathmore Mayor Pat Fule upset some residents when he wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper about racism in the community.(Sylvene Gilchrist/CBC)

"We want to be far more accepting in Strathmore. The vast majority of people have been very good but there are always small pockets where situations could develop but we want to really, really reduce those so people feel safe and welcomed in our town," said Fule.

Fule said the memorandum of understanding notes that future councils on both sides have to remain committed to the current goals.

"It's ongoing work to keep the situation improving," Fule said.

He said an agreement signed with the RCMP will help build trust from a policing standpoint. Monthly meetings have resumed with new committee members in place, Fule said.

Both groups said the work is an opportunity to inspire other communities that neighbour reserves to address the same problems.

"I've had mayors from other communities calling me, asking about what we're doing. It can send a great message out to other areas," said Fule.

"It takes a lot of courage to step up and say, 'Yes it's here,' but it takes more courage to do something about it," said Breaker.