Port Alberni’s first reconciliation committee meeting explored the meaning of reconciliation in the Valley, and the possibility of creating a ‘made in Port Alberni’ response to the word.
The city’s reconciliation committee came about after the walk for reconciliation in March, where members of Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations, as well as concerned residents, walked from Harbour Quay to council chambers to address topics of reconciliation.
The committee is a select committee of council appointed for the purpose of investigating practical actions for the city and community to help foster reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. Because it is a committee of the city, it will follow the procedures of the city, as laid out in Bylaw 4380.
The committee has eight members: councillor Sharie Minions was selected as the member of city council. Tseshaht representatives included Cynthia Dick and Anne Robinson. Hupacasath representatives included Jim Tatoosh and Rick Hewson, although Hewson admitted that he was sitting in and that another councillor might take his place. The three residents at large, selected to the committee by city council, are Sheena Falconer, Wally Samuel and Ian Benoit.
Minions started the meeting on Thursday, Nov. 30 by stressing that it was important that the committee lead the process how they feel it should be led.
Mayor Mike Ruttan echoed this sentiment in his remarks.
“This is a really big thing for us to get this going,” he said on Thursday. “The work that you are going to engage in is work that you are going to collectively determine. We have to acknowledge that there have been wrongs in the past. No two people view reconciliation the same way. Everybody is in a different place. What we’re asking you to do is create this ‘made in Port Alberni’ response to that word. Each of you represents many other people.”
The meeting was faciliated by John Rampanen, a member of Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations who describes himself as a “cross-cultural bridge builder.”
“I’m a strong believer in creating things that are uniquely our own,” he said on Thursday. “Looking at the recent past…we can appreciate that it’s going to take time to heal and recover.”
He described a three-part process to committee meetings, first looking at the history of colonialism in the Alberni Valley, then taking a status check to see where the communities are today. The third tier of discussions includes next steps and future goals.
“What does a reconciled Alberni Valley look like?” he asked. “Is it even possible?”
He opened the floor to committee members to ask them for their initial thoughts on reconciliation.
“Words like [reconciliation] can become almost like profanity,” he said. “Having a firm idea of what that could look like gives our community something to support.”
Robinson said, “I want to create a better future for my children and my grandchildren and my great-great-grandchildren.”
She added that she has spoken to the Tseshaht Haw’iih (hereditary chiefs), who are happy and pleased that the reconciliation committee is happening.
Samuel spoke up for members of First Nations in Port Alberni who are not a part of any day-to-day governance.
“We fall through the cracks,” he said. “Being a First Nation in a city, it is assumed we have access. We don’t. We’re not involved with our own governments. We’re hurting from what happened to our people. They need to reconcile with us, too.”
Minions spoke up to say that she went to school in Port Alberni without any awareness of the history of First Nations in the Valley. “I think we need to bring more understanding,” she said, adding that she didn’t want her children to go to school with this same lack of awareness.
Dick brought up the Reconciliation Walk. “It was a memorable day for me because of the outcomes it was able to create,” she said. “The work didn’t end there, it just began. People tend to get caught up in fighting something, rather than creating change. That light hasn’t been there in our community.”
With regards to reconciliation, she added, “It’s more than with the outside community, it’s with ourselves. It’s with each other. Let’s not get caught up on the word. Let’s not let the word get in the way of the work.”
Tatoosh, however, expressed some doubt that reconciliation is possible in Port Alberni, because of some of the negative comments he has read online.
Rampanen emphasized a solution-oriented approach in the Alberni Valley, with “reconciliation” as a neutral word.
“Once we start to find our language around this, we can put the focus on growing stronger together, rather than reconcile,” he said.
Minions and Dick were selected as co-chairs of the committee, with two chairs chosen in case of scheduling conflicts. The committee agreed to meet again in December before a holiday break.