Town council will be reviewing a request for assistance in establishing an Indigenous Centre in downtown Cochrane at its Oct. 11 meeting.

It's a discussion that has continued to evolve for some time that is being spearheaded by the Cochrane Rotary Club, members of the Stoney Nakoda Nation, and others. A formal request for the town's involvement was made at council's May 9 meeting. Since then, town administration has been preparing a report for council to consider in reaching its decision.

The consortium is asking the town continue to lease the current Visitor Information Centre, 521-1 St. W. for five years after it is relocated to the new Station on Railway St. They want to town to cover the cost of the lease, utilities, and facility maintenance for five years to give the centre time to become sustainable.

A centre's business plan calls for a $150,000 operating budget. A commitment from the town to cover the lease and utilities for that five-year period would assist in opening the doors to additional funding to form part of that budget.

The Cochrane Indigenous Place-Making Initiative aims to build a circle of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to work together to rebuild our society from the ground up by creating a platform of unity, collaboration, mutual respect, and justice.

It's envisioned to be a multi-use space for Indigenous people to gather, meet others, and create a culturally-safe space within Cochrane. It would become a navigation centre for Indigenous people seeking a range of services and a hub for small business and art and employment development.

The initiative isn't unique to Cochrane, Rotarian Michael Bopp told town council on May 9. He said it's part of a growing movement across the nation.

"When this centre is operating and happening, a lot of Indigenous people are going to be gathering," he said. "It will be a focal point for them for community building."

"Another part is that non-Indigenous people will also have a gathering place to focalize their interests in supporting and working with Indigenous people. That's also important because there are a lot of them, and it's growing. In fact, I think a part of this movement is going to be sort of an ally circle, a circle of people that want to help with this.  We even had people who crashed our meeting who weren't invited. People are really interested in this."

To draw further attention to the proposal, a tipi was raised and blessed at a Sept. 1 ceremony at the Cochrane Ranche historic site. It has since been raised at Culture Days and Culture Fest but won't be on the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. Instead, many of the group will be joining the walk and ceremonies in the Stoney Nakoda Nation on Friday.

During the Sept. 1 tipi raising, Melissa Engdahl, Cochrane Rotary Club community services committee director and long-time advocate for Indigenous inclusiveness, said the raising of the tipi was one of the first public awareness activities undertaken to promote the need for the centre.

"We have been working to educate ourselves and building relationships between Stoney Nakoda and the Town of Cochrane. We know that we need a place where people can come together and learn. We also recognize that the Indigenous voice, particularly Stoney Nakoda, has not been historically part of community programming and community events."

The disturbing discovery of the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School was announced by the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation on May 27, 2021. It sent shockwaves across the nation, including Cochrane.

"People didn't know where to turn in the community, and we're hoping this centre will become a place for Indigenous and non-Indigenous to come together to learn and grow together."

She says progress is being made but is coming far too slowly. Taking the time to build a genuine relationship is an essential first step with the Indigenous community that has not been fully achieved.

"For Cochrane, we have taken advantage of the gentle and humble spirit of the Iyethka Nakoda peoples. It's easy to ignore the fact that their voices are not being heard and carry on with development, growth, and land use. It's time. Not because the government told us to, not because it's an obligation of the treaty or to uphold the inherent land and title rights of Indigenous peoples (but it is), but because it's the right thing to do," she says.

She says Cochrane needs to play a larger role in reconciliation.

"Yes, reconciliation is a two-way street, but Indigenous people shouldn't have to carry the burden of repairing the impacts of intergenerational trauma within their own communities while simultaneously educating us." 

Engdahl was one of four panelists for a session to discuss Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity at last week's Alberta Municipalities convention. She was pleased it was given a larger focus than in the past. Because of where and how it was placed on the agenda, she estimates it attracted between 1,000 and 1,200 municipal officials.

She donated her honorarium from the session to the Indigenous Centre project.

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