By: Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter The StarPhoenix

Little Pine First Nation Chief Wayne Semaganis remembers the sideways looks he got in the Battlefords as a teenager.

“I know those hard times, those racist times. When coming to the City of North Battleford as a young teenager, you weren’t really welcome there,” he said.

He’s pleased to hear the mayors of North Battleford and Battleford are vowing to join the Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities (CIM), a network of communities aiming to fight racism.

White supremacist posters appeared in the region in March, around the time a civilian review found that RCMP discriminated against the mother of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old from Red Pheasant First Nation who was killed by Gerald Stanley on his farm in northwestern Saskatchewan in 2016. A jury acquitted Stanley of second-degree murder after he testified that he shot Boushie by accident.

North Battleford Mayor David Gillan and Battleford Mayor Ames Leslie made a joint announcement on Wednesday, pledging to have CIM inform the communities’ practices and policy-making.

Gillan said city staff will compare the group’s 10 common commitments with the city’s current policies to determine what it has done, what it’s doing and what needs to be done. Current city policies cover six out of 10 priorities, such as moving toward more equal housing opportunities, he said.

The declaration alone won’t eliminate discrimination, but it represents a step toward greater inclusivity, he added.

“We cannot move forward from a place of understanding and learning if we do not acknowledge our past short comings,” Gillan said.

“We recognize that there is an opportunity to improve individually, organizationally and as a community to better our region’s quality of life as a whole.”

The announcement has its roots in a recommendation from the Battlefords Regional Community Coalition, a group of regional mayors and First Nations chiefs. The group has been vocal in the region, condemning the appearance of the racist posters in March and pledging to root out racism.

Chief Semaganis is one of the First Nations leaders involved. He said the issue’s prominence may come at least in part from the identification of unmarked graves at Kamloops, B.C. and Cowessess First Nation that thrust residential schools back into the national spotlight.

That’s partly why he thinks community-level discussions are important, he said. He hopes the local changes can be a springboard for broader work provincially and nationally. Semaganis said an upcoming potluck meal between five First Nations and two municipalities will be one small part of that.

“We haven’t learned to work together, to share together,” he said.

“We’ve learned to be friends, but we’re not friendly. We have to be one big community.”

(Photo: Battlefords Mayor Ames Leslie (left) and North Battleford Mayor David Gillan sign and agreement Wednesday to combat racism. Courtesy of City of North Battleford Facebook.)