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Saskatchewan's two biggest cities tackle reconciliation

Initiatives include art, renaming, inclusion and others.
The City of Saskatoon unveiled its new reconciliation art installation, which is in the chambers directly behind the mayor's seat.

SASKATOON — Reconciliation is said to be a priority for cities around the province. Eagle Feather News took a look at Saskatchewan’s two biggest cities to highlight some of the most recent reconciliation efforts.

Saskatoon’s New Reconciliation Visual Identity

In early 2023, the City of Saskatoon approved a new visual identity, used in civic communications, activities, and community spaces to communicate the city’s commitment to reconciliation and increase understanding of Indigenous people and history.

“Even though we are co-chair of Reconciliation Saskatoon, it was time we developed our own visual identity,” said Melissa Cote, the city’s Director of Indigenous Initiatives. 

“We now have the ability to better identify the work that the city is doing in the community.”

Developed with a committee comprised of Elders, survivors, and Knowledge Keepers, the new imagery incorporates the medicine wheel, as well as iconic Saskatoon landmarks like the river and bridges.

In October, the new visual identity was installed in council chambers at City Hall, directly behind the seat of the mayor. 

“There was a lot of pride from the Elders and survivors, that they were a part of that,” said Cote. 

Renaming of John A. Macdonald Road 

In December of 2023, Saskatoon made history by removing the signage for John A. Macdonald Road and replacing it with the newly named miyo-wâhkôhtowin Road. The move was made to recognize the harms done by Canada’s first prime minister and his role in the Indian Residential School System. The new road name means ‘good relationship’ in Cree.

“It’s historic because it’s the first name change of its kind for the city,” said Cote. “I think it sends an important message to the community that the impacts of residential schools are still felt, and the importance of understanding truth.”

The city voted in favour of changing the name in 2021. 

A committee was established, made up of Indigenous leaders, residential school survivors, Elders, knowledge keepers, youth, members of the Chinese community, teachers from the neighbourhood school, and a resident of the street, to offer a new name. 

The new name was approved in September 2023.

“During this process, I really felt reconciliation happening,” said Cote. “There was a better understanding created of Indigenous worldviews, and Western colonial approaches, and a better understanding of history. What everyone wanted was to have a sense of pride in the name.”

MMIWG Bus Shelter Art Project

As part of a continuing bus shelter art project, in October the City of Saskatoon unveiled its newest instalment – a tribute to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirit Persons (MMIWG2S).

The bus shelter art, by Indigenous artist Vanessa Hyggen, is located on the corner of Adelaide Street and Preston Avenue S, near Market Mall. 

Hyggen incorporated the ideas from an MMIWG2S advisory group to raise awareness about the issues faced by Indigenous people, as well as using the public art project to call on members of the community to break the silence. 

“I think it’s important to understand that when we talk about (MMIWG2S), it really is a community issue,” said Cote. “Community members need to take responsibility for increasing the safety and security of Indigenous women and girls.” 

“Having a bus shelter in a place like that, where it will be seen by people of many ages, demographics, and backgrounds, is important for this city.” 

What to expect in 2024

One of the reconciliation initiatives involves the Independent Office of the Representatives of Matriarchs. It is to support Indigenous women and girls in the city, offering advice and guidance to those struggling, and connecting people with resources. 

“We want Saskatoon to be a home for Indigenous women and girls – a place they feel supported, and have security and safety,” said Cote. “We need to do that in a meaningful way.”

Reconciliation Action Planning & Decolonize YQR

Reconciliation Regina, a non-profit aimed at advancing reconciliation, has held a series of workshops and hosted speakers in the city with a focus on complex issues like implementing the TRC’s Calls to Action, MMIWG, and new Canadians' understanding of Indigenous history and issues.

In November, they hosted reconciliation Action Planning with Roy Pogorzelski, in which he outlined practical steps for the creation of a Truth and reconciliation implementation plan. 

“It’s one of the questions we get all the time – can you help me develop a reconciliation action plan? How can I take action?,” said Kristin Francis, a member of Piapot First Nation who was the Executive Director of Reconciliation Regina in 2023. 

“After we did some community engagements in the city, it was clear we needed to focus on helping organizations with reconciliation,” she said. 

One way this was accomplished was through Pogorzelski. As part of his presentation, he not only talked about the colonial assimilation policies, but the direct impact it had on Indigenous people, and what could be done to advance reconciliation in communities. 

“He presented these topics in a way that wasn’t heavy,” said Francis. “He had good energy, he was positive.”

Orange Shirt Day Walk and Barbecue

To commemorate National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a full and extensive day was planned by Reconciliation Regina and Equity Diversity Inclusion Network. 

The day included a reconciliation-focused program, a pipe ceremony, dancers, music, a keynote address by Eagle Feather News Editor and residential school survivor Kerry Benjoe, and a memorial song dedicated to the children who never made it back from residential school. 

“It is so important to do something like (sing an honour song) because we felt these kids never had this chance, they didn’t have that honour of having a song sung to them,” said Francis.

“The entire day felt very healing.”

Francis also praised Benjoe’s presentation for its candidness but also her ability to remain optimistic.

“When sharing her truths, she talked about how it doesn’t weigh her down, she doesn’t focus on it. I think that’s an important part of reconciliation – to acknowledge what happened but also not stay there,” said Francis. 

Additionally, as part of the event, SaskTel created a booklet on the history of residential schools in Canada. 

Reconciliation Through Language Learning Series

The city is also working to help revitalize Indigenous language by providing accessible, beginner-level classes. The Language Learning series offered classes in Michif, Dakota, Nakoda, Cree, and Saulteaux. 

“They were very popular,” said Francis. “We didn’t expect so many people to show up.”

Each class attracted more than 100 participants. They were not only free and accessible, but people could learn in a safe, supportive environment. 

“Language is the heart of culture,” said Francis. “This is our way of reconciliation – getting back to the way we were.”

What to expect in 2024. 

The city has yet to announce who the new executive director of Reconciliation Regina will be but in the meantime, the Cree and Saulteaux language classes have already resumed.