Reconciliation in Edmonton: Individual Efforts Towards Community Change

Unity Square in Downtown Edmonton was originally named Oliver Square, but was renamed in support of the #UncoverOliver campaign.

Shayna Giles

When it comes to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in Alberta, the provincial government has dropped the ball, but Edmonton’s businesses and communities are picking it up. 

It’s been a landmark year for bringing attention to the need for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, a shift brought about through necessity after the discoveries of thousands of graves of Indigenous children at residential schools across the country. 

This Sept. 30 is the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, a statutory holiday on which Canadians will have the opportunity to reflect on the legacy of the Residential School System in Canada, and to honour the survivors and victims of that system. The Alberta government has stated that it does not intend to recognize the statutory holiday with legislation. Instead, the provincial government flags will be lowered to half-mast. The City of Edmonton, on the other hand, has stated that they will observe the Day of Truth and Reconciliation through community events and workplace activities, as well as lighting the High Level Bridge orange to mark the day. Individuals, businesses, universities and school boards within Edmonton are deciding how best to recognize the Day for Truth and Reconciliation in their own way.

But what is actually being done in the spirit of reconciliation in Edmonton? And what still needs to be done? 

Generally, individual and community initiatives tend to be adopted faster by private businesses than they can be decided on by municipalities, and municipalities tend to make changes before the provincial government. 

This was the case with the renaming of Grandin Fish ‘N Chips on 109th street on May 31 of this year, following the news of the recovery of 215 suspected child graves at the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc residential school, and the known involvement of Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin in the creation of the residential school system in Canada. Renaming the business was a way of showing support for Indigenous people and survivors of that system, and acknowledging the role that businesses and community members can play in reshaping the narrative around colonialism and its legacy in Edmonton. 

Five days after Grandin Fish ‘N Chips renamed to Prairie Fish ‘N Chips, the Edmonton City Council unanimously voted to remove all city references to Grandin, including tentatively renaming Grandin LRT Station to Government Center LRT Station and covering over a mural in the station with orange panels, after two petitions and numerous calls from the community. There had been opportunities in the past to reconsider the station name and murals, as in 2017, it was revised and reconsidered by the Grandin Working Circle, and it was ultimately decided at that time that the mural needed to be better contextualized and reconciled. In 2021, it became clear that a different kind of reconciliation was needed, and the mural was covered, and the station renamed.

The decision to rename the LRT station, a decision that superseded previous considerations to better fit a changing, more compassionate narrative, was made in the spirit of reconciliation. At the time, there was hope that more changes would soon follow–namely, the renaming of the Grandin neighbourhood itself– but that change hasn’t come. At least, not yet.

Similarly to the Grandin neighborhood, the Oliver neighborhood is named after Frank Oliver, who lobbied to have the Papaschase removed from their land in what is now south Edmonton and illegally purchased the land of the Michel band, displacing them. These are only two examples of his legacy, but rest assured, there are many, many more.

An ongoing Indigenous-led community effort, #UncoverOliver, was officially launched by Oliver residents and members of the Oliver Community League in mid-2020 with the goal of renaming the community and it’s notable landmarks. In response, the commercial real estate company that owned the Oliver Square retail hub decided to rename it to Unity Square, and stated its support for the Oliver Community League’s renaming efforts. 

Efforts which, as of the date of publication, are still underway, and likely will be for many months to come. Reconciliation won’t happen overnight, but an effort like #UncoverOliver is helping to create that change in Edmonton.

This Sept. 30, the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, is a chance to look around you and consider how you can contribute to meaningful change in your community, that centres the voices and experiences of Indigenous people. Consider the long-standing impacts of ongoing colonialism, and identify its legacy in your community.

Recognize that you cannot have Reconciliation without Truth, and Truth without change is not Reconciliation. 

 

 

External Links and Resources:

24 hour Residential School Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

First Nations Health Authority mental health resource list

#UncoverOliver

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