By Shari Narine
For Enoch Cree Nation Chief Billy Morin, the final piece of government funding sliding into place to make the Indigenous Peoples Experience at Fort Edmonton Park a reality is especially meaningful for the next generations.
“I brought my son on purpose today. It’s going to be his responsibility now to honor what we’re doing here today in this good spirit of intent of working together, and I hope he’s here when he’s an old mosum… and he’s standing here in 70 years and he could have said ‘I was here and it was a turning point for the history of the city of Edmonton, the province, Canada, First Nations, Métis and for everybody working together’,” said Morin.
On March 3, Amarjeet Sohi, federal Infrastructure and Communities minister, announced that his government will contribute close to $47.8 million for the expansion of Fort Edmonton Park, which includes the Indigenous Peoples Experience.
Fort Edmonton Park is a tourist attraction, billed as Canada’s largest living museum. Through a number of attractions, it tells the history of the area.
Mayor Don Iveson was emotional when he talked about the city’s commitment to the Indigenous Peoples Experience and telling the story from the First Nations and Métis points-of-view as well as the settlers’.
“This represents a tangible gesture of reconciliation on the part of the government of Canada, the province of Alberta, and the city of Edmonton to tell a more respectful account of history. As many of you know that has become an important part of my work as mayor and as honorary witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” said Iveson.
The Indigenous Peoples Experience will be built on undeveloped land within the fort and will offer more cultural, heritage and historical context told by the First Nations and Metis people of the region. According to plans drafted a number of years ago, the area will include an outdoor Amphitheatre, villages clustered round water, and interpreters who will talk about Indigenous ways. Classrooms and interactive programming will also be offered.
The federal funding joins money already announced—$33.5 million from the province and $72 million from the city—toward the $165 million budget. The Fort Edmonton Foundation will raise another $11 million to complete funding.
“Kudos to our friends in government right now who make the financial commitment… but (also) the commitment to reconciliation in telling that story,” said Morin.
President Audrey Poitras of the Métis Nation of Alberta stressed that it took government officials like Iveson, Sohi and Alberta Transportation Minister Brian Mason to bring about change.
“It takes (these) people… as partners to make these things happen for Indigenous peoples,” said Poitras.
Morin said that receiving the government funding is appropriate as commemoration of Canada 150 anniversary celebration.
“This is extremely important because for the last 120 years everybody else has told our story and I think it’s been a story that’s been negative and I think it’s time, and today is a bit of a turn in history, that we’re going to start telling a positive story,” said Morin.
The project will focus on upgrades to three key sections of the park: an expansion of the Indigenous Peoples Experience, encompassing a new facility to showcase First Nations and Métis cultural heritage, along with camps, trails and classrooms. The 1920’s Johnny J. Jones Midway will add several new attractions, including a roller coaster, a maze and a revue theatre. And a new front admission area will allow for improved visitor services and shopping opportunities.
Construction is anticipated to begin in fall 2017 with completion by 2020.