Council endorses reconciliation process with its Indigenous neighbours

by Colin Smith

The Town of Morinville is seeking to begin a reconciliation process with its Indigenous neighbours.

At its meeting Tuesday, Council unanimously passed a motion calling on Administration to bring forward a report to initiate a comprehensive community consultation.

To take place in collaboration with Alexander First Nation, the consultation would be in support of and in alignment with calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.

The move follows the recent location of 215 bodies of children buried in an unmarked mass grave on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops, which has created a national outcry.

The deaths of thousands of Indigenous children at residential schools across Canada, which operated from 1831 to 1996, were disclosed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its 2015 report on the history and legacy of the schools.

The immediate spur to action by Council was correspondence received from residents calling for the name Grandin to be removed from public spaces in Morinville.

Grandin Avenue, Grandin Drive, Grandin Park and three neighbourhoods are named for Vital-Justin Grandin, a Catholic Priest of the order of Mary the Immaculate, who was Bishop of the Diocese of St. Albert in the latter part of the 19th Century.

Intent on the mission of converting the First Nations people to Catholicism, Grandin was responsible for the establishment of three residential schools. Apart from providing a rudimentary education, the intent of the schools was to separate children from their families so they would lose their own culture and assimilate to that of Europeans.

The City of Edmonton has dropped the name Grandin for one of its city core light rapid transit stations and covered up a mural that depicted the bishop and a Roman Catholic nun with a First Nations child.

The motion to begin the community consultation was made by Mayor Barry Turner.

He stressed the need for Alexander First Nation to have the leading role in the process.

“I look forward to working with Alexander First Nation and moving forward,” Turner said. “Our community has a long history. This is going to be a long discussion. We know the national story; we need to know the local story.”

The first step in the process will be meetings with the Chief and Council of Alexander First Nation to discuss how to proceed.

Chief Administrative Officer Stephane Labonne said Town staff members have already begun to look at municipal names that may have to be changed.

Among those who have sent letters to Council on the issue is Leia Brewer.

In the letter dated May 31, Brewer writes: “In light of the recent discovery of a horrific mass grave at a residential school I believe the Town of Morinville needs to take action to remove the name Grandin from our public spaces. Grandin was a proponent of the residential school system and I believe his name should not be glorified in our community.”

From Jake Doucet, June 2: “I feel by continuing to use this man’s name it is a constant reminder for the survivors and families of loved ones who didn’t survive of the actions of the residential schools throughout Canada. Actions such as these are a sign of reconciliation, although much more needs to be done.”

From Doug Neuman, June 1: “If we as a community are to actively engage in reconciliation with Indigenous communities, we must be willing to look honestly and critically at the past. The best time to start this work may have been decades ago, but the second-best time is right now.”

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