News / Edmonton

UPDATE: Edmonton apologizes for removing reconciliation hearts

The city says they're working on next steps to mitigate the loss

Sara Komarnisky is upset the city removed an installation of paper hearts that carried the message of reconciliation.

Jeremy Simes / Metro

Sara Komarnisky is upset the city removed an installation of paper hearts that carried the message of reconciliation.

City officials are apologizing after staff removed more than 1,000 paper hearts with messages of reconciliation from the river valley and threw them away.

“It was a misunderstanding, and a big mistake,” said Travis Kennedy, an acting director for parks operations in northeast Edmonton.

Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton, or RISE, created the Healing Forest installation last November by tying the paper hearts into trees along the popular River Valley Road pathway, to teach Edmontonians about our Indigenous history.

But Kennedy said two staff members removed the hearts on Feb. 23, after noticing many of them had an “untidy” appearance — they were on the ground and snagged in plants, he said.

“They didn’t know what the offerings were or what it meant. It’s a bit of a gap in our leadership communication down to them.”

A look at the reconciliation hearts before they were removed.

Metro File

A look at the reconciliation hearts before they were removed.

The messages were made by community members, and many offer memories or messages of hope in response to issues like the residential school system, the ‘60s scoop and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

RISE programming lead Sara Komarnisky said Thursday the group found out about the removal Wednesday morning.

“It’s really sad, and I’m pretty angry, too,” Komarnisky said.

“We were hoping that could become a permanent space for reconciliation. Hearing that it was the city who took them down was a real disappointment. Just talk to us, we’re here.”

RISE and the city had agreed the art would remain in the river valley until deciding on a permanent location.  

“It was the first Healing Forest in Canada,” Komarnisky said. “We got so many positive messages from it. People felt hopeful after walking past it.”

Juanita Spence, the supervisor of river valley parks and facilities, said the city will work with RISE to determine the next steps.

“The city definitely wants to reconcile this situation and work towards still helping the group achieve their goals with this project,” she said.

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