The RM has uploaded the September 14th meeting, which includes the discussion around Truth and Reconciliation discussion.
The discussion occurred around many RM council tables as councillors decided what to do for the day. As the day is Federal, it is not mandatory to recognize it by declaring it a stat holiday at the Municipal level.
Before the discussion, Councillor Don Whitrow says to Chief Administrative Officer Brandi Morissette, “What the hell is that” Morissette responds, “It’s a discussion we’ll have next.”
This is the transcript.
Reeve Bob Schmidt: So we’ve got the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation
CAO: umm, So I brought this up to council because its been kind of hit my administrator Facebook page quite often. Umm, other municipalities are either passing resolutions to either stay open and not recognize the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation of the stat on September 30th, or some are. For example, the city of Regina did. But I think the consensus is most smaller municipalities are not.
Reeve Schmidt: I would say that, we’ve already give a couple extra staff days a year, so let’s just go with…
Councillor Don Whitrow: But I do believe that council should actually start telling the truth and reconcile a bunch of stuff on that day.
CAO: On that day council has to be very truthful
Councillor Gilbert: What are we going to do? Stand in the corner?
CAO: No, so I just wanted to bring it up just so we had a discussion to see whether or not that would be something this RM would recognize. It seems to be the consensus out there that it’s hitting the larger municipalities versus us smaller municipalities.
Unknown voice: I would agree
Reeve Schmidt: yeah
Following the September 14th council discussion, LMT posted an article on discussions at the council tables of both the RM of McKillop and the Town of Nokomis.
Three days after the article was published on September 28th, the RM put up a notice on its webpage acknowledging the day.
At the next meeting of Council on September 28th, Chief Administrative Officer Brandi Morissette read a letter she wrote to the council which said that reporting by the local paper, The Last Mountain Times, and its reporter Jennifer Argue, along with postings on the McKillop Taxpayer’s Facebook Page have caused stress to staff which was affecting their mental health. Morissette referenced the Truth and Reconciliation discussion article saying it, “was grossly taken out of context.” And that the reporting on the discussion was biased and an opinion. She added that there should have been a follow-up to find out what the RM would do in recognition of the day. She said the article incited hate and shouldn’t have been published.
Reeve Bob Schmidt, Councillors Gary Gilbert and Craig Romanyk were on the same page in that the reporting was opinion. Reeve Bob Schmidt went even further, saying that the council would take action against the paper by going to the Federal Journalism Initiative Grant Program, which pays for the reporter’s wage. Councillor Howard Arndt refuted his colleague’s opinion claims, saying he disagreed and that the reporting was factual and that the dialogue that occurred around Truth and Reconciliation was disgusting. Arndt also spoke about the importance of a free press and insisted that the council needed to change their conduct around the table if they didn’t want it in the paper.
RM of McKillop resident and ratepayer Laura Lodge is of Metis heritage. She listened to the RM’s web page recording as she wanted to hear it for herself. She thought what happened was, “Ignorant jokes, they don’t take it seriously, they don’t think its important. It was in such poor taste.” She thought that with other public officials who have gotten in trouble for making comments in the last few years, “it was in such poor taste.” She said that people need to be taking this seriously as reconciliation with aboriginal people is at the forefront in Canadian society. “They didn’t have to talk about much but for some reason for the 90 seconds that they did talk they decided to all crack jokes about it.” She referenced Councillor Gilbert’s comment about standing in the corner, “It blew my mind that they didn’t think twice about making those comments.”
Lodge read the letter the CAO wrote. “There is no context, you said what you said.” Lodge said she agreed with fellow ratepayer Leandra Cameron that it’s not up to the reporter to contact the RM and ask, “did you really mean it? Are you going to do something else about it, did you want to add to that?” Lodge said the discussion was done “in a public forum at a public meeting.”
“If Don Whitrow had no idea what that meant, a two minute education of what it is and why it’s important. And the fact that we are sitting on treaty territory. It could have been any one of those things and you guys basically said we aren’t going to do anything about this and crack jokes.”
Lodge said that the CAO saying what happened was taken out of context shows no accountability.
Lodge said she considers the bigger picture with the RM “because they have such a problem with transparency and accountability.” That the way to address what happened would be, “To fix this, the responsible thing to do would be those three people to apologize for what they said. Don’t try to argue context, you said it. The council as a whole needs some education whether that is going to a reservation nearby or whether there are online courses available. Just educating themselves, reading the calls to action for Truth and Reconciliation. Something to show that they are doing something about it.” She said she didn’t see the notice that the RM had put out three days after the article but, “I don’t think that’s sufficient at this point.”
“They have a lot of things they need to do but that’s a really good place to start is to admit their wrongdoing on this particular issue.”
Lodge wondered if a higher authority could step in with the RM to tell them to get their act together. She added, “It makes no sense that they would put so much argument into attacking you (reporter) for quoting them. But push back on context, when how much harder is it just to apologize. You might look good to your ratepayers because I don’t see anyone loving you guys or what you are doing.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada made 94 calls to Action to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation. #57 addresses Professional Development and Training for Public Servants.
57. We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skillsbased training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.
We contacted the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities for comment. They responded, “SARM works to support and advocate on behalf of rural municipalities in Saskatchewan. We offer a broad range of services and opportunities for rural municipalities that includes development opportunities as well as opportunities to learn and grow. We support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s recommendations and strive to be an organization that considers these calls as we work together to build and support rural Saskatchewan.”
We asked if there are any educational opportunities around those in the call to action, and they responded, “SARM offers a variety of learning and growth opportunities for members. The subjects and focus of training and development programs are based on the needs from the rural municipalities, and as such cover a wide range of topics including topics that support equity, diversity and inclusion.”
LMT contacted the CAO asking if the RM would be issuing an apology regarding the dialogue that occurred around the Truth and Reconciliation Discussion at the September 14th meeting. We also asked what skills-based training has council, administration and RM staff have taken around the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations.
The CAO responded, “I have no comment at this time.”
Ratepayers, Leandra and Gerry Cameron have submitted formal code of ethics complaints against the CAO Brandi Morissette and Councillors Gary Gilbert and Don Whitrow for their conduct. The Cameron’s say the least the RM could do is accountability in the form of a written public apology and education and training on Truth and Reconciliation and ethical and respectful conduct.
The RM has scheduled a Special Meeting for Monday, October 18th at 10:00 am to discuss Formal Complaints. The discussion will be held in a closed session.
Jennifer Argue, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Last Mountain Times