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Mayoral candidates address Indigenous issues at second election forum

Les Ellsworth, Ron Matechuk and Colleen Smook answered questions for the second night in a row at the Ma-Mow-We-Tak Friendship Centre Oct. 20.
From left to right, Thompson mayoral candidates Ron Matechuk, Collen Smook and Les Ellsworth at an oct. 20 election forum focused on urban Indigenous issues.

For the second time in as many nights, the three candidates seeking to be Thompson’s mayor for the next four years sat side-by-side at a table and answered questions about their plans on Oct. 20, this time at a forum focusing on urban Indigenous issues.

The question-and-answer session, organized by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, Keewatin Tribal Council and the Ma-Mow-We-Take-Friendship Centre, featured eight questions from the host organizations, with an opportunity for the public to ask their own questions afterwards.

On subjects such as reconciliation, addressing racism and on Thompson doing its part to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action that apply to municipal governments, the three candidates agreed in general that those are important topics, though they were often short on the specifics of what they would do.

Colleen Smook, who was elected mayor in 2018, said she was glad to have been part of a council, along with fellow candidate Les Ellsworth, that incorporated a land acknowledgement into the bylaw that governs how its meetings are run, and that played a role in getting a monument erected near the Spirit Way aviation tribute by the Burntwood River explaining the role that bush planes played in the residential school system. She also admitted that there hadn’t been as much progress made on the calls to action as she would have liked.

Ellsworth said his plans to re-establish standing committees of council, which were traded in just over a year ago for a committee of the whole structure, would ensure that reconciliation gets more attention.

“If I’m mayor of this city, it will find itself on an agenda and the new [councillors] will be educated on what we need to do with the calls to action,” he said.

Re-establishing committees was also central to Ellsworth’s plans to help address Indigenous business and economic development, with the current councillor saying he would include Indigenous community representatives on a new development review committee.

Ron Matechuk said racism is wrong no matter who was targeted by it and that his strategy as mayor would be to address examples of it in Thompson as they occurred, while Ellsworth said training in respectful workplace policies was the key.

“I think we need a task force on racism to just find our exactly what course or courses that we need to take as a community,” said Smook.

In response to an audience question about colonization, all three candidates said it was up to them to learn as much as they can about the effects it has had.

“I couldn’t imagine what it would look like because it totally turned your world upside down at the time,” said Matechuk.

Smook said developing greater understanding is key to getting a better grasp on how Thompson got to where it is today.

“If we don’t understand the problems the people on the street have, and where came it from way back … we’re never going to correct it,” she said, while Ellsworth promised that, as mayor, he would welcome anyone to sit down with him to help him understand better so he could help councillors and other partners in Thompson do the same.

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