The path towards reconciliation with Indigenous people in Red Deer has gained a new stepping stone.
On Wednesday, elders, dignitaries and other community members joined together for the grand opening of Asooahum Crossing.
Located along the east side of Riverside Drive, Asooahum Crossing currently features two apartment buildings with eight units each. The centre was built with the aim of providing affordable and safe housing primarily for Indigenous people, though one official says if the need arose, Asooahum is there for anyone.
“This is a special day. For the Friendship Society, the community, it started with a vision, an idea, people and community coming together,” said Red Deer Native Friendship Society President Dwight Mandrusiak. “This was talked about years ago, back in ‘97, through conversation, dream, vision, it’s coming together now. Phase one is complete and now we’re looking forward to phase two.”
Mandrusiak says if all the right pieces fall into place, including more provincial funding, phase two will be complete in 2020. Located at the same site and just south of the current buildings, phase two will include a peace path, new office space for the Friendship Society and additional housing.
Red Deer – North MLA Kim Schreiner was on hand to share her thoughts, recalling the groundbreaking in November of 2015. She thanked the Friendship Society for their ongoing dialogue, passion and perseverance.
“I remember the words spoken: Asooahum is Cree for the word crossing. It is not a noun, but a verb and thus this crossing is not a place, but a process for first people,” Schreiner said. “As such, the Asooahum project creates the environment for first people to be empowered, to create their own good lives. Although the land is medicine, the integral aspect is cultural support.”
Years ago, the Asooahum Crossing project was slated for a site in what is now Clearview Ridge. After public backlash, city council at the time rejected that site forcing the project to move elsewhere.
Speaking at the grand opening, Mayor Tara Veer said the City continues to support the vision of Asooahum Crossing, calling it an example for our province and country of a community’s shared journey towards reconciliation.
“I also want to take this opportunity to reaffirm that our city deeply values our relationships with our urban Aboriginal community,” Veer said. “We are honoured to be working with the Red Deer Native Friendship Society on the Asooahum Crossing project, we remain committed to reconciliation and we look forward to celebrating phase two and the peace path, which is in early planning phases.”
Presenting a gift to the Friendship Society during the ceremony was a group of students from G.H. Dawe School. Over the last several months and inspired by Orange Shirt Day, 90 grade six to eight students designed two blankets, one of which will hang at the school and the other at Asooahum Crossing.
“[It was about] how could we move beyond just education and how could we honour the TRC and move our students gently and to a world of reconciliation,” says MJ Jaworski, Community Liaison Worker at G.H. Dawe.
“What we did is we asked all of our middle school students to choose a piece of fabric, colours of the medicine wheel, that they felt honoured their heart. Each and every student chose their fabric, they had to speak to someone about it, speak from their heart and then they had to choose something from the natural world that represented their commitment to reconciliation and what they would do to honour and be an ally.”
Currently, three of 16 suites are filled at Asooahum Crossing. The first tenants moved in last spring.
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