On the first National Truth and Reconciliation Day, Aaron Paquette is proud of his Metis ancestry.
“I come from a story of people who, despite everything that happened to them, have kept their sense of humor, have kept their sense of community, have kept their culture and kept it alive and thriving,” he said.
Four years ago, he was the only indigenous person elected to the Edmonton city council.
“The challenge is that when you look at a problem from the outside in, you can lose some of the urgency,” Paquette explained.
“One of the things I’ve been able to do is give that perspective that otherwise wouldn’t be there.”
While he hopes to be re-elected and continue that work, he said he has tried to teach his colleagues the complexities of issues such as homelessness and mental health.
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“Rather than trying to lead the charge, I try to build capacity in other counselors so they can raise that bar because it takes a lot of different voices to advocate for positive things.”
Enoch boss Billy Morin said outgoing Mayor Don Iveson has done a lot of work on reconciliation, including the institution of new indigenous district names.
“There was a certain rejection on the part of the people of the city when naming the neighborhoods, and they are really difficult to say, I even admit it. Some of the Blackfoot rooms are hard to tell, ”he laughed.
“But now when you go out, you see those posters, they hug them. That is the original language of the land, that is the identity of this land. “
He said having even a few indigenous candidates running for the council shows progress, but there is still work to be done.
“Those barriers are still there. How is it organized, how does it raise funds? It’s such an intimidating system. “
Paquette agreed, noting that her generation is the first in her family in 100 years that has not been taken to residential schools.
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He said intergenerational trauma has lasting impacts, including on someone’s ability to run for council.
“You may not have the networks of people, the generational wealth. The connections that many other candidates might have will be lacking, ”Paquette said.
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For her work, Morin calls Paquette a Metis champion and inspiration.
“Aaron blazed that trail, so who’s next? Hopefully there are more indigenous candidates who have something to offer, like Aaron did. “
A Metis woman, Diana Steele, has thrown her name in the race for the mayor’s seat.
“Obviously, indigenous people have a very difficult history in Canada, and I think it is time for us to take a seat at the table.”
Steele said his family was stripped of their ancestry decades ago.
“My mother grew up without the Metis culture and since then, for the last 10 years, she has been searching for her identity and trying to learn the culture herself. And she is learning the language. He is learning to bake. She is beading. “
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And now, Steele is learning those traditions from his mother.
But she says some have questioned her Metis background.
“When people challenge me, I find it quite offensive because it was a culture that was taken from us. And I’m hugging him now, ”he said.
Paquette notes that he has also experienced hatred and says it is discouraging.
“I’ve definitely faced a fair amount of people who have doubted my ability based on my cultural and, I suppose, racial background.”
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But both Paquette and Steele hope future generations will speak up to claim a seat at the table.
“This generation of indigenous youth that is coming are agents of change. They are entrepreneurs, they are visionaries, they are merchants, they are professionals, ”said Paquette.
“I just want to show that anything is possible,” Steele said.
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