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Blanket exercise rebuffed in split town council vote

Posted on April 17, 2019 by Taber Times

By Trevor Busch
Taber Times

Town council has rejected participation in an indigenous truth and reconciliation blanket exercise following a 3-3 split vote.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released their final report which included 94 ‘calls to action’ as opportunities for all levels of government — federal, provincial, territorial and municipal — to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.’

“It has been recommended that the first part to education is with the mayor and council and staff taking part in a blanket exercise,” stated administration in their background to the decision at council’s April 8 meeting. “This is a very powerful visual exercise for all.”

Through their 94 ‘calls to action’, the TRC encouraged municipalities to take an in-depth look into the recommended actions that communities could take to support reconciliation efforts.

“We have been contacted by Lisa Sowinski (Horizon School Division FNMI liaison) with regards to her offering services to do a blanket exercise with council, and members of the Taber administration and management team that are interested,” said CAO Cory Armfelt. “It’s a fairly common exercise that’s happening in many municipalities around the country.”

In recent months there have been two community blanket exercises hosted at the Taber Public Library, as well as additional exercises completed by Taber Police Service staff, day home staff, and Municipal District of Taber council and administration.

“I, for one, would support taking part in a blanket exercise,” said Deputy Mayor Carly Firth, who chaired the April 8 council meeting. “I’ve heard good things about it from an educational perspective. It shows a different perspective, and I think it would be an interesting thing to take part in. So I would certainly support that.”

Coun. Garth Bekkering questioned if the exercise was open to all town staff, or was being directed at council and administration.

“Miss Sowinski’s looking for about 15,” said Armfelt. “So it would be in that neighbourhood of council and the senior director team, and senior management.”

Sowinski also sits on the board of the local Eagle Spirit Nest Community Association which hopes to raise awareness of indigenous issues in the region, among other initiatives.

The blanket exercise was expected to take up to three hours (1.5 hours for the activity followed by a talking circle debrief). Administration would also note the exercise would align with the town’s Strategic Plan through encouraging and promoting local cultural diversity and “enhancing a sense of community.”

“I have no problem with this,” said Coun. Jack Brewin. “It’s up to an individual councillor, I believe, if they choose to attend or not. If there’s interest there I have no problem.”

Following discussion, council voted 3-3 to defeat a motion put forward by Coun. Joe Strojwas directing administration to set up a blanket exercise at a date and location to be determined by administration. Councillors Firth, Strojwas and Brewin voted in favour, while Councillors Bekkering, Mark Garner and Louie Tams voted in opposition. Mayor Andrew Prokop was absent.

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