Not all Vernon council on side with cultural and anti-oppression training - InfoNews

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Not all Vernon council on side with cultural and anti-oppression training

Back row, left to right: Coun. Delver Nahal, Coun. Catherine Lord, Coun. Scott Anderson, Coun. Juliette Cunningham. Front row, left to right: Coun. Bob Spiers, Mayor Akbal Mund, Coun. Brian Quiring.
Image Credit: City of Vernon
December 04, 2017 - 6:00 PM

VERNON - City of Vernon staff and council will be getting “cultural competency” and “anti-oppression” training next year with a focus on First Nations history.

The training, which was first suggested last April by Coun. Juliette Cunningham as a way to promote reconciliation with indigenous communities, was approved for funding in a closed door meeting on Monday, Nov. 27. It will cost $15,000.

“This was one part of a much larger discussion that involved a number of third parties, contracts, personnel and a confidential legal opinion,” Chief Administrative Officer Will Pearce said when asked why the matter was held in camera, not in a public meeting.

Coun. Cunningham says many local governments around the country are starting to provide this type of training and feels the cost is justified.

“I think it is leading by example. We are in a position to take a leadership role on this issue,” she says.

She describes the cultural training as a way to take an active approach to reconciliation and raise awareness about First Nations history.

“It’s a step in creating more understanding with our neighbours,” Cunningham says, adding it will help cultivate good relations with the Okanagan Indian Band. “If we’re going to be partners and embark on a potential partnership with the band, it’s important that we try to understand the perspective the band is dealing with every day.”

The workshop will be split into two three-hour sessions, one on cultural training and one on anti-oppression training.

“There is a connection between the two,” Cunningham says. “There are other marginalized groups, and it’s important to understand what they deal with too. Quite often we are not aware and I think it’s empowering for both sides when you understand each other’s point of view.”

Most councillors were in favour of the idea, but two voted against it. Coun. Catherine Lord says she supports the concept of cultural competency training, but ended up voting against it.

“I looked at the curriculum and it’s not doing what I wanted it to do,” Lord says. “I was hoping this whole cultural diversity program would, first of all, be utilizing our Okanagan Indian Band, which it’s not. It’s someone from Cowichan that’s teaching it.”

Coun. Scott Anderson also voted against the initiative, which he says is “a solution in search of a problem.”

“I don’t think taxpayer money should be spent promulgating an ideology,” he says.

Most of his disagreement lies with the “anti-oppression” aspect, not the cultural training, he says, although he doesn’t think that’s needed either.

He likens the training to the debate over free speech that erupted after a Wilfred Laurier University teaching assistant was sanctioned for showing a video about whether people should use gender-neutral pronouns in class.

“It’s not teaching someone a lens through which to look at the world, it’s teaching them a lens through which to look at the world and saying it’s the only one,” Anderson says.

Instead of promoting inclusivity, he thinks it will only divide people.

“It juxtaposes larger society against a series of smaller groups in an oppressor/oppressed relationship. So anybody who’s a member of a smaller group — LGBTQ2 or natives or anybody that is deemed to be a member of an oppressed group — is juxtaposed against greater society,” Anderson says.

The training will be provided to council, senior employees, and frontline workers.

Anderson says he will be opting out of the session.

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