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Aboriginal council names two citizen members

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The Brandon Urban Aboriginal Peoples Council (BUAPC), while in the process of finding a new community co-ordinator, welcomed two new citizen-at-large appointments earlier in the year.

Deborah Huntinghawk and Darlene Paquette joined the council — though Huntinghawk rejoins after serving as the representative for the Brandon Friendship Centre.

“I know both ladies and have worked with them on other committees, and they are a real asset to BUAPC,” said Leah LaPlante, the council’s chair and representative for the Manitoba Metis Federation.

The council is arm’s-length from city council and is primarily dedicated to issues of concern to Indigenous people in Brandon. The city can seek its advice and, conversely, the council can “advise city council of its own accord.” Its mandate is broad, with a goal of ensuring Indigenous people have a place in Brandon, supported by policy and programming.

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The council is made up of two members from city council, four citizen-at-large members and one representative each from the Brandon Friendship Centre, the Manitoba Metis Federation, the Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council, Prairie Mountain Health, Brandon University, Assiniboine Community College, the Brandon School Division Board and the Brandon School Division Administration.

Coun. Kris Desjarlais (Rosser) currently serves a dual role on the council — representing both the city and Assiniboine Community College.

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“Deb did and does such a wonderful job and really brings a motherly lens to those conversations and to our considerations. She’s very thoughtful. It’s great to have her back,” he said.

“And Darlene, I’ve known Darlene for years. She’s such a strong community advocate. Really not afraid to challenge people, and invite questions and good dialogue. She’ll definitely hold the council’s feet to the fire. I’m really looking forward to Darlene being on the council, actually.”

Desjarlais said there are normally quite a few applications for the citizen-at-large positions, more than other committees.

“We really had to make tough decisions last time. It’s never fun for me to tell somebody who wants to volunteer their time, ‘I’m sorry,’” he said.

For Huntinghawk, the council is a group of like-minded, community-minded people.

“We all have respect for each other, and we all have respect for what happens to our Indigenous people that live in this community. We all want good things, like good health care, good education, just a positive experience to be here in Brandon,” said Huntinghawk, adding affordable housing and reconciliation to the list.

She also appreciates that each representative brings issues forward from their own organizations to be discussed in a solution-oriented way.

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The Métis and Sioux Valley Dakota Nation flags flying at city hall is one visible way to let urban Indigenous people know they belong in the city alongside other Brandonites. That was a council effort. Huntinghawk listed more projects the council has accomplished.

For Paquette, a lifelong volunteer, her appointment to the council is humbling, she said. After a year’s break from boards and committees, she decided it was time to re-engage. She was elected to the Brandon Friendship Centre board in June last year.

“Then I thought, I always wanted to serve on a city committee, and I thought that BUAPC would be a good fit. I know that they were doing great things pre-COVID. And, yes, I wanted to be a part of that,” she said.

“They have built a solid bridge between the Indigenous community and the City of Brandon and this community at large. There was a lot of work put into that, and I commend all of the board members past and current, that are appointed, and the city councillors that sit on there. They’ve done so much work in building good relationships with the city and the community.”

Paquette also noted the teepee project, which has seen teepee frames erected all over the city, and the Good Road Gala, which honours Indigenous people who live the seven sacred teachings — love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility and truth.

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The council would normally meet once a month, and invite guests to speak from time to time, to discuss such things as justice, economic development, Indigenous relations and urban reserves.

“You name it — we put a lot of things on the agenda, and then do our best to collaborate and promote the advancement in economics, education and wellness for our urban Indigenous population,” said Desjarlais.

The council’s work has mostly come to a standstill due to the pandemic. They are also on the search to fill the community co-ordinator position left vacant by Jason Gobeil, who moved on to pursue other interests last fall.

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