By Chevi Rabbit, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – In an exclusive interview with Alberta Native News, Keren Tang, a City Councillor representing Ward Karhiio in southeast Edmonton talks about her past experiences working with Indigenous communities, the COVID pandemic, her own lived experiences and her new role as a municipal councilor.
This past year, Tang spoke at the Edmonton’s 11th Annual Hate to Hope with other prominent politicians such as Edmonton’s new mayor Amarjeet Sohi.
Tang is a public health advocate, community organizer, city builder, and a mom.
“I began my career as a teacher in a rural Navajo community in New Mexico,” said Tang. “I moved out to Edmonton almost 10 years ago to study public health, working with the Yellowknives Dene community in the Northwest Territories on a project about traditional physical activity on the land.”
Since then, she has worked with communities and families of diverse backgrounds within public, private, and non-profit sectors. These experiences have motivated her to be a stronger bridge between people’s lived experiences and decisions made at the table.
“That’s why I ran for City Council in 2017 and again in 2021, when I was elected for the first time,” said Tang.
“During the election, I ran on a platform rooted in community, economy, and climate, with priorities developed with communities through various ways of listening and engaging. Now that the new council has had a couple of months to orient itself and get settled (completing our first major budget exercise in the fall) I am looking forward to getting a move on those priorities!”
Tang explained with regards to community, she aims to focus on community wellbeing and safety and ensuring multiple sectors like policing, social services, and initiatives to end poverty begin to work together towards shared outcomes.
“This will be a particularly important year for a discussion about the police funding formula, which is up for review and has significant implications for community wellbeing and safety,” said Tang.
From an economic perspective, Tang hopes to focus on priority-based budgeting during the next 4-year budget, which will be up for discussion this fall, to support focused and fair growth and our small businesses. In particular, she is excited about supporting the research, technology, and innovation opportunities in the ward to help further diversify our economy.
“When it comes to climate solutions, I am focusing on accessible transit options,” said Tang. “I am ready to explore ways we can work with various partners and community groups to activate local, grassroots ideas like tree planting, community gardens and tool libraries to promote a healthy and resilient environment for generations to come.”
Tang added that she will continue to bring an equity lens to the table in decision-making and in agency, boards, and commission appointments. This might be highlighting stories from residents and businesses, sharing from her learnings with diverse community groups such as the City’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, or from her own lived experience.
When it comes to the uncertainty of this pandemic Tang stated, “We are not out of the woods at all. And despite all the lasting impact COVID will leave on our economy and social safety net, it is also pushing us to change our ways.”
Tangs explained while employment and housing are two major jurisdictions for the provincial and federal governments, the City can help create the conditions to support employment and economic growth, continue to advocate, and strengthen frontline social and housing services.
- Continuing with major capital infrastructure projects like recreation centres and LRT that create jobs;
- Helping to diversify the economy with research and technology development by attracting and retaining talents in the city;
- Working with partners to build new permanent supportive housing and convert existing infrastructure like hotels to bridge and transition housing; and
- Supplementing existing social safety nets with efforts such as Indigenous-led encampment outreach services, crisis diversion, and public washrooms.
Tang shared that over the years, the newly elected city councillor has benefited from many relationships, friendships, and mentorships with Indigenous peoples. Their voices, advice, and stories will continue to inform Tang’s perspective and decision-making; and in turn she will continue to bring forward and prioritize reconciliation in every conversation, including at the local neighbourhood level.
“We kicked-off our term on Council with a Mayor and Council Indigenous Awareness Training Session in November at the Fort Edmonton Park Indigenous Peoples Experience,” said Tang.
This is a required training for all City employees, part of addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #57 (Professional Development and Training for Public Servants). As City Councillor, specifically, Tang will begin the conversation to explore establishing an Indigenous Leadership and Elders Council to guide the City Council.
- Seek placemaking and naming opportunities in the ward that celebrate and recognize Indigenous culture and contributions.
- Continue to support and potentially expand the Urban Reserve Strategy, and other ideas like cultural land trusts that offer both economic and reconciliation benefits for Indigenous people.
- Uphold the City of Edmonton’s Indigenous Framework – which supports the journey of Reconciliation by applying the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Calls for Justice and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“I have worked with many different Indigenous communities throughout my professional life. Everywhere I’ve been – from New Mexico to Montreal, to Halifax, to Northwest Territories, and right here in Edmonton, I’ve seen the shared historic trauma of colonialism manifested in similar but sometimes different ways,“ said Tang.
“But what I also saw in the same breath are all the ways communities, people, and Nations are coming together to determine their own wellbeing, livelihood, and decisions. These experiences have influenced the way that I see strength-based approaches and relationship building as central to my community work. They have taught me a lot about my individual responsibilities to uphold and honour reconciliation.”
“While there are a lot of major priorities to tackle, on a day-to-day basis, my team and I are responding and listening to residents on such a wide range of issues from snow removal to garbage collection, to parks and recreation,” concluded Tang.
“Please do reach out and connect if you have any questions at [email protected] or catch me on social media @kerentangyeg (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook). To stay in the loop with ward happenings, please subscribe to our newsletter at https://www.kerentang.ca/.”