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Local B.C. governments seek ways to go beyond talking about reconciliation

Indigenous people need power, municipal convention told
John Jack, chair of the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, addresses the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention by video link, Sept. 14, 2021. (UBCM video)

Like most modern political meetings, the Union of B.C. Municipalities session on Indigenous reconciliation began with acknowledgements of traditional territories on which the Vancouver convention centre is located.

Those gestures are significant, local government delegates were told in the mostly online event Tuesday (Sept. 14), but they don’t get the real work done in overcoming the colonial relationship between cities and towns and neighbouring Indigenous people.

The session included Murray Sinclair, the former judge and senator who chaired Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Murray Rankin and John Jack, chair of the Alberni-Clayquot Regional District.

Jack is in a unique position on relations between Indigenous and local government communities, because he is also a councillor for the Huu-ay-aht First Nations on Vancouver Island. He explained that ceremonies and “theatrics” are important to Indigenous people, because historically they didn’t have contracts or written language. Agreements on trade or mutual protection were worked out “by the light of the big house fire,” and people needed to see them happen.

Modern treaties and agreements need the details worked out, and the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District did that by adding permanent Indigenous positions to its board of directors.

“In order to pursue those goals and achieve them, they have to have power,” Jack said. “Economic and business reconciliation provide the resources for those first nations to actually achieve those goals. Adding four voting members to our board has changed the complete conversation, and that means that we will always be conducting our business differently from here on in, because the votes are different now.”

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Rankin described a July 2021 agreement with the city of Mission where the province turned over 60 hectares of Crown land to the Matsqui, Sumas and Leq’á:mel Nations. The property, next to the grounds of the St. Mary’s Residential School, comes with a 50-year lease on most of it for the City of Mission to manage as a park and recreation area, with the remainder used for housing and economic development.

“I think it is unique for a municipality to be a full partner in a reconciliation agree like that,” Rankin said.

Sinclair touched on the history of Indigenous relations and the federal reserve system, where people were denied traditional use of animal and other resources and had to have the federal Indian Agent’s permission to leave their reserves.

The lack of education and other opportunities led to the current situation where 62 per cent of Indigenous people in Canada live in urban areas, he said.


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