Six months in, city’s Indigenous advisor reports to council

The City of Yellowknife's Indigenous relations advisor Maggie Mercredi, right, presents to council about her work February 25th together with city administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellett. Emelie Peacock photo
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Chief of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation’s community of N’dilo Ernest Betsina says the City of Yellowknife’s first Indigenous relations advisor is bringing the two communities together. He says he would support making the position permanent when it ends a year from now.

City councillor Stacie Smith, a local business owner and member of the Tlicho Nation, agrees that advisor Maggie Mercredi is bridging a gap between the two communities.

“It is these relationships that are going to move us forward so that people aren’t hesitant, people aren’t struggling with the concept, we’re working together as a team and as a community we’re supposed to move forward as one and not segregated areas of town and people.”

Six months ago Mercredi was hired as the city’s first Indigenous relations advisor, with money from the federal government. She reported back to council about her work Monday.

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Mercredi says she has been a conduit between the YKDFN and City of Yellowknife councils. From these connections, Betsina says the outcome has been mutual support. For example, the YKDFN is supporting the city’s push to get federal money to replace its aging water infrastructure line which also runs through Yellowknives land.

City administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellett says the city can also support the Akaitcho land claims process, which she says is on it’s ‘final leg’ towards an agreement-in-principle. “Supporting the governance aspirations – of YKDFN, Akaitcho, North Slave Metis – there are a number of different groups here that we can collaborate with.”

Another area of focus for Betsina is getting the city and YKDFN boundary near Dettah to shift. “So Maggie is helping us through that process, so it doesn’t get forgotten.” Betsina says senior administrators with both governments are now meeting on this.

Mercredi has also been working on the city’s website to include Indigenous people, culture and businesses and better reflect the people who live in the city. In the library, her work includes bringing in Indigenous storytellers, books by Indigenous authors and, down the road, the possibility of an elder in residence program.

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Having elders, chiefs and the Yellowknives Dene Drummers present when councillors were sworn in, the first time this has happened says Sheila Bassi-Kellett, and being able to smudge in council chambers are some other changes Mercredi highlighted. “Having an Indigenous woman on council, which is amazing, and the hiring of myself, and being allowed to smudge here in council chambers…is something that I’m really grateful for.”

Mercredi says her role, as it involves a lot of change, has not been without challenges. “Because this is so new, there is a lot of confusion as to how reconciliation can happen as a city.”

Councillor Niels Konge pointed out that the way a city operates is inherently colonial. He asked how, in dealings such as land development, the city can engage in reconciliation.

Mercredi says the way forward is through relationship. “It is about stepping out of our comfort zone and removing what we believe Indigenous people think, feel and do and removing all of that and building that relationship,” she says. “Indigenous people work with relationship first and that’s why we say it takes a long time, it’s patience.”

Another model, says Bassi-Kellett, can come from the way council negotiated the use of land behind the Multiplex for the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation’s healing camp. Rather than a traditional lease, the city signed a memorandum of understanding with the foundation.

The advisor position will last 18 months, funded by the Department of Indigenous Services Canada supplemented by money from the GNWT’s Department of Health and Social Services. Betsina says he would like to see the position become a permanent one, as the work is far from over.

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