Before the City transformed the Inner Harbour into an outdoor stage and launched the 11-day “Spirit of 150” event, culminating in a well-attended event on Canada Day, we did something very important.
On June 16 at the Aboriginal Cultural Festival, we launched the Witness Reconciliation Program with a traditional witness ceremony.
In so doing, we began a journey of reconciliation with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations on whose territories the City of Victoria is built.
Together, the City and the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations have created a program reflecting indigenous family witness ceremonies.
The Witness Reconciliation Program brings together indigenous witnesses from both the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations’ Councils and a ‘City family.’ The program is fluid, flexible, adaptable and will evolve to foster resilient long-term relationships between the City and our indigenous partners.
The program will focus on building and nurturing the relationships needed to facilitate trust, and demonstrate the City’s ongoing commitment to doing the work for as long as needed.
The indigenous witnesses will be the chief and councillors of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, who have been chosen by their people as leaders. The witnesses will provide guidance and oversight for the program, coming together two to three times a year in a traditional witness ceremony to hear, reflect, comment and advise, witnessing and guiding how the program moves forward.
The City family will meet regularly to collaboratively generate ideas that will lead to actions. The ideas generated will be presented through a witness ceremony.
After the advice of the witnesses is heard, the City family will facilitate actions to realize those ideas.
We can expect to see changes in our city based on this work – changes in the ways we do business, changes in the landscape of the city and other changes generated by the program. The program is an agile and evolving process that will make the culture, history and modern reality of local indigenous peoples become present and apparent throughout Victoria.
The City family will initially be comprised of Songhees representative Brianna Dick, Esquimalt representative Katie Hooper, noted artist Carey Newman, Camosun College Indigenous Studies Chair Janice Simcoe, Victoria councillors Charlayne Thornton-Joe and Marianne Alto and myself.
This is a new way of doing business for the city. And it will be new for the public, too. Reconciliation begins with truth. We must first confront the truth that Victoria is still a place where racism towards First Nations is very real. We must take actions as a community to un-learn racism. This can only happen through listening, building understanding and creating a shared path forward.
One thing that is already clear through launching the Witness Reconciliation Program – this path must honour indigenous ways of being, doing and knowing.
Lisa Helps is the mayor of Victoria.