A construction company contracted by Epcor has fired an employee after workers disrupted a smudging ceremony outside a southeast Edmonton school last week.
Wilco Contractors Northwest, issuing a statement on the company’s official Twitter account Tuesday, said employees working on a dry pond project near Edith Rogers School made racist comments and disrespectful actions towards participants at the ceremony.
Wilco takes action to combat racism following Edith Rogers School incident
— Wilco Contractors NW (@work4wilco) September 29, 2020
On Saturday, a Twitter user identifying as a teacher at Edith Rogers School, said construction workers “revved their engines and yelled racial insults at staff and students” while the school hosted a smudging ceremony Friday.
“ On September 25, we let down the community,” the company tweeted Tuesday. “We apologize unreservedly to the students and staff who were hurt by these actions. We take full responsibility for what occurred, and we are taking concrete action to ensure this never happens again.”
The company said it undertook an internal and external review and terminated a staff member who was involved. It also announced it will be implementing cultural and Indigenous awareness training.
“T o support the broader community, we are pleased to be joining Epcor and Sureway Construction Group in jointly funding a $30,000 donation to the Edmonton Public School Board’s Amiskwaciy Academy,” read the Twitter statement.
Arthur Mann, president and CEO of Wilco Contracting, said the company has terminated one staff member and are continuing to review documentation of the event.
He said the company has sent a personal apology to the school, students and parents involved as well as Grand Chief Billy Morin.
“We have asked for meetings with them for further in-person apologies, but also to work with Grand Chief Morin and his team in terms of what we can do as a company with his guidance towards reconciliation,” said Mann.
Epcor issued its own statement Tuesday thanking the students and staff at Edith Rodgers for bringing the workers’ actions to them.
“Epcor took immediate action to shut down the construction site until an investigation could be completed, and we have been in communication with school officials, witnesses, the contractor for the site, and the sub-contractor,” said the statement.
Edmonton Public Schools previously said the smudging ceremony was part of its efforts to teach students about reconciliation with Indigenous people. Smudging is a type of ceremony practised by certain Indigenous cultures. It typically involves the burning of sweetgrass, sage, tobacco or cedar, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia .
In a statement over the weekend the board called the incident “deeply unsettling and unacceptable for our staff and students who were participating in the smudging ceremony.”
EPSB representatives said they will provide an updated statement Wednesday.
— With files from Jonny Wakefield