An Innisfail woman is refusing a town order to remove two soft-sided structures from her property, saying she needs to continue practising her First Nations traditions in them.
Lisa Voelker and her mother have been performing smudges and other Indigenous ceremonies in the tent-like “sheds,” or car storage covers, for the past four years.
They heard of no previous concerns expressed about the structures in their front and backyards until Aug. 30, when an order for their removal was issued by the Town of Innisfail.
Voelker was told that a municipal bylaw makes it illegal to have car storage shelters up year-round — which is similar to rules enforced by many other central Alberta communities.
She told town officials she uses her tent-like structures, which are needed year-round for praying, drumming, and ceremonies that honour her First Nations culture.
Voelker feels singled out by the town, since so many other such “sheds” are allowed to remain in Innisfail yards. She recently presented 30 photos she’d taken of similar ones, but her appeal to the town was still denied.
Voelker believes it could be a sign of cultural discrimination.
But Innisfail CAO Todd Becker said that’s not the case since other removal orders have been issued: “There is no indication of a culture-charged discrimination. That is a no-go area…”
Becker added that the town does not want to take a “heavy-handed” approach, but prefers to be pro-active by first talking to property owners about the need to removing these soft-sided structures that contravene a bylaw.
While tents and gazebos are allowed during the summer months, Becker said the town does not want year-round soft-covered garages to proliferate. He believes it’s for aesthetic considerations that the bylaw was drafted some 20 years ago — either spurred by community demand, or instigated by town council.
“You are allowed to put up a holiday tent in your yard because it’s a temporary structure,” said Becker. But many communities have outlawed soft-sided garages because they are an eye-sore, and can become dilapidated by weathering.
Voelker believes her 10-foot-by-20 foot tent-sheds look as good as when she first put them up. She said she does not intend to take them down by the end of the month, as ordered, even if the town fines her $250, then bills her for their removal by city workers — as the bylaw stipulates
When asked if she’ll continue her fight in court, Voelker said “I’m taking it one step at a time.”
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