Six Treaty 8 First Nations chiefs and seven mayors from Mackenzie to Fort Nelson met virtually in October to discuss the formation of a new leader’s table, with the aim of working toward reconciliation at a community level.

Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman and Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead were among those who took part in the meeting. Bumstead said the meeting was highly productive, and that he is proud of the relationship his city has with the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations.

“It was really about the Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders of Northeast B.C., and how we could establish a table where we do meet and talk about common issues that affect any community leader, whether you’re Indigenous or not,” said Bumstead.

In Fort St. John, relationships are also continuing to be built, particularly with the Doig River First Nation. Ackerman said there is always an opportunity to work with local First Nations in all areas, noting that the city’s new RCMP station will have an inscription with the Beaver name for the city.

Work is also continuing by First Nations to settle outstanding treaty land entitlement claims with the federal and provincial governments, which Ackerman said she wants to see handled with efficiency.

“It’s far overdue, and, really, it’s a ball and chain that’s holding our First Nations neighbours back from moving forward on numerous other files,” Ackerman said. “It’s land that was entitled to them when the treaty was signed 122 years ago, I think it’s time.”

Ackerman is currently in the middle of completing ‘Indigenous Canada’, a free online course offered by the University of Alberta. Forty city staff are also taking the course, which covers the full history of Canada’s colonization, and explores key issues facing Indigenous peoples using a historical and critical perspective of Indigenous-settler relations.

“It was really positive to be able to create a circle where we can discuss solutions and even out that path that has been uneven for a considerable length of time, and look at how we can move forward,” Ackerman said, “whether it’s the calls to action for municipalities, but also as we make decisions, looking through the principle of truth and reconciliation as a lens.”

Last month, the Vatican said Pope Francis has indicated he is willing to travel to Canada in the “context of the long-standing pastoral process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”

Bumstead said he hasn’t heard much about the Pope’s offer to visit Canada as part of ongoing reconciliation by the Catholic Church, noting it’s more important to seek solutions at a local level, and to continue fostering existing relationships.

“Part of this was about the aspect of reconciliation. To me, that’s communication and discussion, it’s learning about how we can be better together,” Bumstead said.