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November 26, 2018: Lorelei Higgins, City of Calgary Indigenous Relations Strategist       Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee

Marie Rickard introduced Lorelei Higgins as a previous Rotary Exchange Student and currently the recipient of a Rotary Peace Fellowship* to attend the Rotary Peace Center in Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok Thailand. She has worked in Indigenous Affairs in both North and South America as, well as Asia.

She is presently employed by the City of Calgary in Indigenous Strategies and her presentation would be about how the City of Calgary is on a journey with Indigenous peoples, both living in the city, as well as the communities that surround the city.

Lorelei Higgins started by describing her experience as a Rotary Exchange Student from Edmonton in 1998, when she traveled to South Africa for a year. There, she became very interested in the plight of indigenous peoples and how people can be misjudged because of their heritage. She is Metis and her hosts in South Africa could not understand why she could not speak French given her heritage.

After completing her university studies, she went to Bolivia to assist in a project to improve the living conditions of an indigenous community there. The project has been able to obtain sustainable funding, and is still running.

She then introduced the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and the 94 recommendations made to align government policy with the UN 2015 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She then focused on the impacts on Canada’s residential schools on indigenous people and communities. Starting in 1876, around 150,000 indigenous children were placed in residential schools and it has been estimated that upwards of 6,000 died (1 in 25).

Alberta had one residential school, St. Dunstan’s Calgary Indian Industrial School located in Ogden, which operated from 1896 – 1907. A 17-year-old Piikani Nation boy, Jack White Goose Flying, died in 1989 in a shack on the grounds where sick children were quarantined. He was buried at the site and his identity was lost until, as development threatened the site, a newspaper asked Albertans if they could identify who was buried there. The mystery was solved when Steve Gladstone identified Jack as one of the boys who had attended the school with him.

To commemorate Jack, the Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee developed the White Goose Flying report in 2015 in response to Calgary City Council’s request for how to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation report locally. The report was adopted by Council in 2015.

Lorelei was assigned to help implement the White Goose Flying Report. The City is proposing a Calgary Indigenous Relations Office, which is now included in the City budget. Edmonton has had a similar office since 2007, and Vancouver has just created one. Toronto is still trying to figure out how to respond. A key objective is to create space for indigenous people to participate in discussions and set policy.

Linda Anderson thanked Lorelei for her informative talk and presented her with Calgary West’s famous Gold Hat Boltman.

*Read about Rotary Peace Fellowships

reported by Don Vokey

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