Edmonton is home to the second-largest urban Indigenous community in Canada, but it still has relatively few facilities.
By Kashmala Fida StarMetro Edmonton
Fri., April 13, 2018
EDMONTON—A proposed Indigenous culture and wellness centre would provide badly needed space in Edmonton for smudging, ceremonies and other public events, advocates say.
“In our communities when someone passes away, we like to have wakes and we need a large space and we need to be able to burn our medicines and practice our traditional ways, so it could facilitate events like that,” said Carola Cunningham, a community member of the Indigenous steering committee.
Advocates have long argued that Indigenous people should have a cultural centre — the German and Polish Culture Associations both do, for example — and plans for a facility were eventually included in End Poverty Edmonton’s five-year road map to end poverty.
The plan got city council approval back in May 2016, along with $1.3 million in funding for the design phase.
Public consultation for the project started Thursday at the Canadian Native Friendship Centre, where organizers hoped to get feedback about what the community would like to see included.
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Cunningham pointed out there are many different Indigenous groups in the city, and said the facility would need to be big and versatile enough to include space for all as they all have different ways of doing their ceremonies.
“[The Centre] could be a showcase for showing the rest of the world different Indigenous tribal ways of being,”she said.
According to the 2015 Edmonton Community Foundation’s Vital Signs report, 5.4 per cent of the city’s population is Indigenous, which is the second largest urban community in the country.
But Cree Elder Charles Wood said the city hasn’t always had the best track record of building facilities for the Indigenous community.
“We don’t have a defined Canadian culture as it were. We are a country of many different cultures. It’s important for young people from all those cultures to know who we are,” he said.
Mike Chow, director of Aboriginal and multicultural relations with the City of Edmonton, said infrastructure is long overdue.
“This should have been the first step when it came to a facility strategy, when you look at all the other various assets that city holds like rec centres, senior centre, multicultural facilities,” he said.
“Working with community for a space for Indigenous people really aligns with the original relationship that we should be having with the (original) people of this land.”
Once design work on the centre is complete, the project organizers will go back to city council and other organizations to ask for further funding.
In February, city council also approved the building of an outdoor Indigenous ceremonial site known as Kihciy Askiy, pronounced Kee-chee-As-kee, and will accommodate outdoor facilities like sweat lodges.