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Calgary moves ahead with the search for an Indigenous Gathering Place

Calgary city council approved continued work on determining an Indigenous Gathering Place at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers.

The motion was debated late Tuesday evening at the Combined Meeting of Council. It passed unanimously.

There was a concern raised during January’s Executive Committee meeting that different Indigenous groups weren’t consulted during this process.

Coun. Evan Spencer, who brought the motion forward, said this is a chance to finally move forward on finding a space for Calgary’s Indigenous peoples to gather.

“That’s what this motion is doing. It’s starting the process of engagement and identification of a site,” said Coun. Spencer.

Spencer said this was an apolitical effort. That was later confirmed by John Fischer of the Indigenous Gathering Place Society, who said they don’t have political representation. He said they’re working for a community of urban Indigenous peoples in Calgary.

The motion would begin the process of working with different groups to identify a location for the Indigenous Gathering Place. It would confirm interest in the land around the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers.

Still, there was concern about the engagement – or lack thereof.

“I would say the engagement on this hasn’t been on par to some of the stuff we’ve done as a city in engaging on certain things,” said Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp.

Community Services GM Katie Black said they’ve been supporting the Indigenous Gathering Place Society in their process and consultation. She said they’ve developed their extensive engagement process over a number of years.

“We respect the process that the Indigenous Gathering Place Society has used to develop their plans,” said GM Black.

Consultation versus engagement

Coun. Sharp said another letter of concern was sent by the Stoney Nakoda Nation. Sharp asked if the city was interested in making sure the Indigenous groups feel consulted.

But, Dr. Terry Poucette, Stoney Nakoda Nation member and team lead of the City’s Indigenous Relations Office, said that not all Indigenous peoples need to be in agreement. She said it’s a double standard that Indigenous peoples are not able to have differences in opinion.

Poucette also said that there’s a big difference between consultation and engagement. Consultation is only required if a project infringes on Treaty rights. To that end, she said she didn’t agree with everything the Stoney Nakoda letter stated.

“And as a member of the Stoney Nation, I do not understand how an Indigenous Gathering Place infringes on my treaty rights," Poucette said.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said that although this Indigenous Gathering Place process is meant to be apolitical, city council is not.

“We have an obligation and a responsibility as a local government to ensure that we are entering into engagement properly with other governments, which means that this notice of motion is indicating to administration that the time has come for council, to direct administration to enter into that engagement process,” she said.

The City's Real Estate and Development Services will report back on a potential location and deal no later than Q3 of 2022.