Fort Edmonton Park is a popular interpretive park that shows visitors the history of Edmonton. Since opening in 1974, the Park has focused on the important contributions made by the original settlers of one of Canada's most dynamic cities. Yet, that history has essentially ignored the aboriginal peoples that lived in the area long before it was settled.
Edmonton lies in Treaty 6 territory. The treaty was signed in Saskatchewan in 1876 and included 50 First Nations. The Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations was formed in 1993 to act as a political voice for the signatories. The Confederacy helps ensure that all aspects of the treaty are honoured. The Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation between the Confederacy and the Fort Edmonton Park Management Company confirms that First Nations peoples will be portrayed in a historically accurate, more culturally sensitive way. All future park programming will include members of the Confederacy. In addition, all capital development plans must include the input of First Nations peoples.
Christina Martinez, the Director of Aboriginal Community Engagement for the Fort Edmonton Park Management Company, says the agreement is important because “we need to recognize the fact that we are in Treaty 6 territory.” The Confederation's participation and input is essential because “the story has to be told by the people who the story belongs to,” she says. The agreement means that the park's management company and the Treaty 6 stakeholders will work together to create an authentic experience of aboriginal history for visitors.
The park has a small Cree encampment outside the fence of the 1846 fort. However, the Confederacy has never been consulted about including Treaty 6 First Nations stories in the park experience. The Confederacy is assembling an Elders Advisory Board that will include elders from each of the 18 Treaty 6 First Nations of Alberta. “The board will work with park management to ensure that future expansion is historically correct,” says Martinez. The inclusion of elders in the planning process is important because they carry the wisdom, knowledge and history of their community. The elders are role models who share and teach traditions, culture and values. It would not be possible to create an authentic, respectful experience without their input.
Authenticity is important to Mayor Don Iveson, who sees three primary teaching opportunities with the new agreement. First, the park will be able to tell a more accurate story about indigenous cultures prior to settlement. Second, the contact story will be more respectful to both indigenous peoples and settlers because contact in central Alberta was “less about conquest and more about collaboration,” he says. Third, the agreement will provide a valuable opportunity to teach Edmontonians and visitors about the importance of the 1876 treaty. “This is very fitting for a historical park that has traditionally told a very European narrative,” says Mayor Iveson.
Mayor Iveson takes the City's role in supporting the treaty seriously. “The treaty goes forever,” he says. “It is in effect ‘as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the river flows.' Keeping the spirit of the treaty alive is a good context for other City initiatives such as ending homelessness, poverty and violence against aboriginal women.” The Mayor says he looks at it as an opportunity to work together respectfully. The long-term plans for Fort Edmonton Park include a $45 million expansion called the Indigenous People's Experience. In the meantime, studies are underway to see what current aspects of the park can be presented differently so the park can begin to move in the right direction.