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Richmond Hill launches Indigenous awareness training course for city staff, council

Fourteen people have participated in the $15,000 online course purchased by the city
August 27, 2019
Sheila Wang

Richmond Hill city staff and council are expected to teach themselves on Indigenous culture and history through an online training course after council decided not to open council meetings with a land acknowledgement statement in March.

The city launched the online training course on Aug. 7. It offers a summary of Canada’s native peoples and Indigenous culture to its more than 2,000 full-time, part-time and contract staff in Richmond Hill.

The course was introduced as a result of a vote at the March 25 council meeting to amend a motion to open council meeting with a land acknowledgement statement. The amendment essentially replaced the original motion introduced by Coun. David West.

“It’s good but it’s not as good as it could’ve been,” said West, who has completed the online training course. “The staff will benefit from this, but the public will not necessary benefit from this because they don’t have access to it.”

The councillor was one of the 14 people who have taken the course in the first two weeks, according to the city.

The course consists of five modules which cover a wide range of Indigenous topics. Each module takes about 30 minutes to complete.

It not only offers a history of Indigenous peoples, the defining moments that have shaped the realities, but also help understand treaties and rights, their cultural values and traditions as well as conflict resolution.

There is a short five-minute quiz to test for comprehension after each module.

Hood said the city spent $15,000 purchasing this existing course from NVision Insight Group Inc., an Indigenous consulting company, with no modification.

It was funded through Richmond Hill’s operating budget.

“I found it to be well done and informative and it is a good tool that we can now offer staff to further their understanding and education for their jobs as Richmond Hill employees,” West said.

However, he said the city needs to do more in order to further the community’s understanding.

West reiterated that reciting an Indigenous land acknowledgment to start council meetings would represent a “first step” on the path toward truth and reconciliation.

Deputy Mayor Carmine Perrelli applauded the implementation of the training course through the city’s internal education system.

“Educating staff is a crucial first step in ensuring the service offered to our Indigenous residents is provided with understanding, sensitivity and expertise,” Perrelli wrote in an email, noting the online course was recommended in the report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and supported by the Indigenous community.

In the report, one of the recommended actions calls upon all levels of government to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal Peoples including the legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, treaties, rights, laws and Crown relations.

“It’s a good step, but they should have initiated it long ago,” said David Grey Eagle of Toronto, who is a member of the Iroquois Mohawk Confederacy Bear Clan.

“And not having the land acknowledgement is very disrespectful and dishonourable to the Indigenous people because Richmond Hill is filled with Mohawk burial grounds and village sites everywhere.”

There are about 500 residents in Richmond Hill who identified as Indigenous, according to the 2016 census data.

Positing himself as “Cultural Lands Protector,” Grey Eagle led the first private prosecution in the province against the Ontario Realty Corp. for failure to consult with Indigenous people under the Environmental Assessment Act back in 2003.

The court found the ORC in breach of the EA act for selling a piece of land on Steeles Road in Markham which included a recognized Huron village site without consulting with the Huron Nation, reported The Globe and Mail.

Grey Eagle said he has provided frequent input to Richmond Hill council in the past and repeatedly attempted to offer consultation and education about Indigenous history and culture in the city.

“Too little, too late,” Grey Eagle said of the online course. “I think the land acknowledgement is the most important because it’s giving honour, it’s giving understanding, it’s giving truth and it’s given acknowledgement to those first peoples.”