Improving the well-being and quality of life of aboriginals who have moved to Red Deer was front and centre at a workshop on Saturday.
Urban Aboriginal Voices Society’s Aboriginal Youth and Community Conference gathered input from about 25 people who showed up, including members of the aboriginal community and City of Red Deer.
The Urban Aboriginal Voices’ interim leadership committee started about two years ago. Its aim was to set up a governance structure that focusing on seven domains.
Calgary’s Bob Chartier, lead facilitator of the session, said it was important to get participants engaged so it was more conversational. During Saturday’s conference, people were broken into groups to discuss those seven areas — housing, education, health, employment, youth and family, justice and the community healing centre. They discussed what the community is doing right and what isn’t working.
Phyllis Redcalf, co-ordinator of the Urban Aboriginal Voices Interim Leadership committee, said they want to eventually create action groups that would work with various community agencies and other partners.
She estimates more than 3,000 aboriginals live in Red Deer.
Those numbers are expected to grow as more and more leave the reserves.
“We have to be prepared to meet that transition,” said Redcalf.
Some of Saturday’s discussion centred on how to battle stereotypes. Participants liked that there was some discussion about this in public schools. The national Aboriginal Peoples Television Network was helping to lessen stereotypes.
But the group felt it was also important that the “white population” should incorporate aboriginal racism into their anti-bullying program.
Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, executive director of Central Alberta AIDS Network Society and board member of Red Deer Native Friendship Society, was at the roundtable on health where they discussed things like discrimination.
“We’re looking at how we treat others and how we can do that better,” she said.
Aboriginal awareness training isn’t mandatory, which is something that should be required for all staff within Alberta Health Services, suggested the roundtable.
Having additional supports from elders, who have their own healing and wellness techniques, within hospital settings would be great too, said Vanderschaeghe.
One of the society’s aims is to meet regularly with municipal, provincial, federal and indigenous governments to create dialogue, action, and funding for urban aboriginal issues.
Mayor Morris Flewwelling, who attended part of the conference, said what comes out of this session will ultimately fall on the aboriginal community.
“This is their voice — they are speaking and I am listening,” said Flewwelling. “I’m interested in how that voice will speak to council, municipal government.”
The aboriginal people have a special place in the Canadian federation and Constitution, so in areas like education and health care, they have rights, privileges and responsibilities that are different, he added.
Tanya Schur, executive director of Red Deer Native Friendship Society and a board member of the Urban Aboriginal Voices Society, said this conference was the continuation of community engagement that’s already happening.
“We are having conversations with agencies and organizations that want to partner with the aboriginal community,” said Schur. “We’ll create strategies that will work towards improving the lives of aboriginal people in Red Deer.”