LETHBRIDGE - Cohesive work with Indigenous partners and proactive emergency management training were the focus of awards handed out to the City of Lethbridge and the Town of Coaldale by Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson on Tuesday, Aug. 21 at City Hall.
Anderson says the Minister's Awards for Municipal Excellence are very important to him because its an opportunity to go out and recognize communities that are doing great work.
"We have municipal officials and people out there that sometimes don't get that recognition because they work behind the scenes a lot. This is a fun one for me to go out and make sure that they know we realize it's a big deal what they do, and that people [in their communities] should know about it too."
The Town of Coaldale established an effective, well-rounded and collaborative emergency management training program that has improved the level of emergency preparedness and public safety.
In 2017 the town implemented training initiatives that increased the level of confidence, skills and knowledge of its emergency management agency and town staff to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies and disasters.
"What Coaldale has been doing is training lots of people, municipal people and other folks, in emergency management. It's an important thing to know and we try to do it as a province but it's incumbent upon the municipalities to do it too. For them, they're taking the lead on that part of it, because we know that disasters are becoming more frequent and more powerful," Anderson said.
Right now, there are lots of fires in B.C. and in Alberta earlier in the season different parts of the province had to deal with floods and fires.
"To have our people prepared for this is extremely important for us, the people need to know that their municipal officials and emergency management professionals are there with the skill and knowledge to help in times of emergency," Anderson continued. "Coaldale is doing that which is great to see, and they work really well with their surrounding communities which is fantastic. We need to have these partnerships to make sure that our communities are strong."
Coaldale Deputy Mayor Jacen Abrey was on hand to accept the award and talked about what it means for the Town to receive this award.
"It's an honour for the Town of Coaldale to be recognized as a Safe Community. We've put a lot of work into the efforts since our flooding a couple years ago. Making sure that the staff are trained, and the volunteers are trained so we're prepared in the event a big event happens within the municipality," Abrey stated.
Lethbridge received the Partnership Award for its Traditional Knowledge and Use Agreement partnership between the City and Blackfoot Confederacy Nations (Blood Tribe, Piikani Nation and Siksika Nation).
The project aims to identify and understand places of traditional land use, ecological knowledge and spirituality within the boundaries of the city. The information gathered will inform land use and parks planning projects and on-going heritage management in the city.
Anderson says Lethbridge working with the Blackfoot Confederacy is incredibly important with Truth and Reconciliation.
"The City of Lethbridge has taken the lead on this in the province and it's nice to see because these are our neighbours, friends and family. We need to make sure that we have partnerships with them, and Lethbridge is doing that."
Anderson spoke about how the City is listening to First Nations, working with them, wanting to learn about their traditional knowledge and share that knowledge with people in the community.
"I think that's really important like I said, we live together, and we need to understand each other. I'm very proud of what Lethbridge is doing, I think it's phenomenal," Anderson added.
Mayor Chris Spearman says while it's great to be recognized, this is really just a first step.
"It recognizes the effort that the City of Lethbridge has made with respect to planning, as we go forward with new developments and ideas in the city we have a process where we involve the Indigenous elders. To make sure that traditional knowledge of the Blackfoot people is incorporated in any future planning."
Spearman relayed that this is part of their response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to make sure that they do acknowledge, in a true sense, that we're on the land of the Blackfoot people.
"We want to make sure that we respect their culture, their history and make sure that as we develop in the future we take all of that into account."
He was also asked about Anderson's comments about Lethbridge leading the way in this area in the province.
"I think there's a lot of work to be done," Spearman quickly responded.
"City Council, and the people who are on our Reconciliation Committee, as we go forward we begin funding that committee and asking for tangible ideas how we can improve and respond," Spearman continued. "When we begin addressing some significant social issues in the city in a concrete way that'll mean a lot more."
Spearman closed by touching on a few more boxes that need to be checked before patting anyone on the back.
"When we begin to address some of the social issues that have existed for decades, when we have permanent supportive housing, when people are getting housing at an equal level, and when people are being employed at the same rates, then we'll know that we will have arrived," Spearman said, adding while this is the first step it's good to have some initial recognition that their efforts at respect for Blackfoot culture are being recognized and seen as best practice in the province.
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