‘Step in the right direction’
Visitors to Slave Lake town council chambers these days will see three new flags on display. The flags of Treaty 8, the Métis Nation of Alberta and Sawridge First Nation now stand next to those of Canada, Alberta and the Town of Slave Lake ones.
The presentation of the flags took place in fine ceremonial style on Jan. 17. Representatives from the above three jurisdictions, along with those from Bigstone Cree Nation and Driftpile Cree Nation took part. Sweetgrass burned, a prayer in Cree and English by elder Mike Beaver of Bigstone was offered, and a drum group from Driftpile played and sang four ceremonial songs.
Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman, introducing the proceedings, spoke about his council’s push the past couple of years “to understand truth and reconciliation better,” and that the flag ceremony was part of that.
Sawridge Chief Roland Twinn, in his remarks, spoke of the improved relationship between Sawridge, the town and the M.D. of Lesser Slave River, since the wildfire disaster of 2011. It was that experience that brought them together into what’s called the Regional Tri-Council. Calling it “a big improvement,” he said “we’re starting to work together and know each other.”
Grand Chief Arthur Noskey of Treaty 8, who comes from the Loon River Cree Nation, provided some historical perspective. He said the first settler in what became Slave Lake was a fur trader, in 1802. That got things started, and “First Nations people still (come to town) for trading,” he said.
Today’s challenge, Noskey said, is maintaining the good will between the communities. He thanked mayor and council for “this strong indication of your commitment.”
Bigstone Chief Andy Alook spoke next. We share the land, he said. “We’re all in it for the betterment of our people.”
Alook concluded by saying he looks forward to building partnerships – in economic development and other ways – not only with Slave Lake, “but with other First Nations and Alberta.”
Driftpile councillor Stan Isadore spoke about being both a resident of Slave Lake for many years and a part of the Driftpile community where he was born and raised. He said he was proud to be a member of both communities, calling it “a wonderful balance.”
Hilda Lambert, the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 5 Vice President, spoke about her connections to Slave Lake and the region.
“We want to work together, in a good way,” she said.
Wrapping things up, Warman spoke about each community (or government) going down different paths, but hoped through such efforts that those paths might intersect more than before. He said he hopes town leaders that come after him will continue to work on reconciliation. We will make mistakes, he said to his guests, and I hope you can help us up when we do.