Vancouver Islanders ponder what path to walk to reach reconciliation

Island leaders want to heal bruised relationship between settlers and First Nations, but they aren’t sure how

  • Feb. 2, 2017 3:00 p.m.
This Bentwood Box created by Vancouver Island carver Luke Marston travelled across Canada collecting residential school and other stories of First Nations people as part of the Truth and Reconciliation process.

This Bentwood Box created by Vancouver Island carver Luke Marston travelled across Canada collecting residential school and other stories of First Nations people as part of the Truth and Reconciliation process.

At the start of every council meeting for the City of Victoria the mayor makes a point of recognizing they’re on the traditional territories of the Esquimalt and Songhees nations.

You will see public officials replay a similar routine before meetings and events in meetings across Vancouver Island.

It’s a tradition that started not long ago, but one that Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps feels is important.

“We’re on their territories and I think it’s something we need to remember,” said Helps. “It’s a very public and formal event — council meetings, held in a public government building, so I think it gives some weight and some precedence.”

The topic of reconciliation was front-and-centre last week after the city of Port Alberni rejected a bid to rename a city street named after former MP and accused racist Alan Webster Neill.

City council was swayed by public backlash against the move, epitomized by presentation where resident Cameron Stefiuk told council reconciliation was not his responsibility.

Not everyone agrees.

The City of Victoria has declared 2017 the Year of Reconciliation in conjunction with Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation.

What the year will involve exactly has yet to be determined, but chief Andy Thomas of the Esquimalt Nation and Ron Sam of the Songhees Nation are eager to see what the year has in store.

Sam said the nations aren’t going to tell the city what reconciliation is, and if it’s going to happen, it has to come from the people who’ve declared it. For him, reconciliation is about finding a good way to move forward, being comfortable with each other, feeling like First Nations belong and what they are doing is important.

Thomas is already starting to see some new opportunities on the horizon, but said there’s still a lot of work to do when it comes to building relationships and making them last.

He wants First Nations to be able to make their own decisions, noting a lot of decisions were made on their behalf.

“We want our people to be recognized, to have our rightful place on our own homeland without anybody holding something over us and telling us we can’t do this just because,” said Thomas, who feels the country can’t go on for another 150 years doing the same thing.

“Sometimes I say don’t call me a Canadian citizen because I am not. I am an indian under the Indian Act. I don’t have the same rights as a Canadian citizen, I don’t own my own land, I don’t own my own house and we can’t develop our own land without going to the minister of Indian affairs. All of this has got to change.”

The Government of Canada’s vision for the country’s 150th birthday revolves around themes of diversity and inclusion, reconciliation with indigenous people, the environment and youth.

The Canada 150 Fund will provide support to several initiatives that are part of the Reconciliation in Action: A National Engagement Strategy, which includes a series of national reconciliation gatherings, a national gathering of spiritual leaders and youth, a national thought table on reconciliation, and a celebration of reconciliation in Winnipeg.

For Helps, one of the main reasons for reconciliation is to address racism.

“There is still a lot of racism targeted particularly against First Nations people and you can see it and you can feel it and you can hear it,” said Helps.

She noted the real work will be figuring out how the community can be engaged in the acts of reconciliation.

“It makes me feel like we have a lot of work to do as a community. Racism comes from misunderstanding and fear so we have to build relationships.”

Helps isn’t sure what projects and initiatives will come up this year, but so far a call has been put out for a paid indigenous artist-in-residence and the push is on to build the longhouse with the nations on top of Beacon Hill.

There may also be a new installation outside of City Hall, and city staff may spend time with the band administration, sharing their expertise on running the city and learning various things from one another.In addition, Helps plans to wear a beaver cape, made for her by an indigenous woman, at every council meeting this year and any time she’s invited to make a formal address as mayor.

The Indigenous Perspectives Society (IPS) has also launched its 10-week Button Blanket Project, which involves sewing four button blankets with images of whales, eagles, ravens and wolves from Jan. 17 to March 21. When completed, the blankets will hang on the walls of the IPS training room as symbols of their dedication to reconciliation.

Helps got the idea to declare 2017 the Year of Reconciliation in Victoria after attending a conference in Winnipeg last year. She was struck by the mayor and council declaring 2016 the Year of Reconciliation following the release of the final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Luke Marston is the Ladysmith-based carver who created the Bentwood Box which travelled the country with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, collecting the stories of First Nations people.

Marston told the University of Manitoba Today the box’s mission continues.

“I feel like it was a necessary move to have it still to be active,” he said. “They say they collected 7,000 statements and they’re all in that Box.

“I don’t believe that the journey of the [Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada] is over, I don’t think that healing can be done that quickly – undo all this in five years – especially with the diversity of the people that were affected through the schools.”

The idea that reconcilation is not the responsibility of every day Canadians today runs counter to what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set out to accomplish, according to a post by resident Perry Bulwer at www.albernivalleynews.com.

“That comment shows that Stefiuk is either wilfully or unintentionally ignorant about the issues at stake and has no real understanding of what reconciliation is,” he wrote. “Just like South Africa’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s process was about systemic discrimination and abuses, so was the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s process.

“Whether or not any one person, including Stefiuk, was responsible for discrimination and abuses is totally irrelevant. Reconciliation is about redressing the systemic discrimination and abuses of the Indigenous peoples that continue to this day.”

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Alberni Valley Non-Contact Hockey League has suspended play under provincial health orders despite having a strict COVID-19 safety plan. (FILE PHOTO COURTESY TREVOR ZADO)
Adult sports shutdown ‘tough pill to swallow’ says Alberni hockey league president

Hockey, curling suspend play under new provincial COVID-19 orders

Renovations are complete at the Bread of Life and following a final health inspection, the warming centre at the Third Avenue facility will be open a few days a week. (PHOTO COURTESY BREAD OF LIFE SOCIETY)
Port Alberni’s warming centre close to opening

Organizers aim for Dec. 4 pending final health inspection

”Once upon a time…” (METRO CREATIVE)
QUINN’S QUIPS: Who is the creature in the shiny red mask?

Annual Alberni Valley News story contest kicks off for 2020

FILLING THE KETTLES
Hayden Henschel, 3, has fun slipping coins into a Salvation Army kettle on Wednesday, Nov. 25 in front of Walmart. Henschel was shopping with her family when they stopped to make a donation to the kettle campaign. To donate online, visit the website www.fillthekettle.com. (SONJA DRINKWATER/ Special to the AV News)
Port Alberni Salvation Army’s kettle campaign seeks donations

Contact-less donations are available online

‘TIS THE SEASON
Wade Addy from Addy Power Ltd. in Errington hangs Christmas lights across the bottom of Johnston Road in Port Alberni on a stormy Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni readies for holiday with festive street lights

Christmas lights have been going up all around town

Pickleball game in Vancouver on Sunday, November 8, 2020. B.C.’s public health restrictions for COVID-19 have been extended to adult team sports, indoors and outside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
711 more COVID-19 cases detected in B.C. Friday

‘Virus is not letting up and neither can we’

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
B.C. hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced a Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Apartments are seen lit up in downtown Vancouver as people are encouraged to stay home during the global COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer says provincewide data show the most important area B.C. must tackle in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is health inequity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Age, income among top factors affecting well-being during pandemic, B.C. survey shows

Among respondents earning $20,000 a year or less, more than 41 per cent reported concern about food insecurity

Victoria-based driving instructors are concerned for their own and the community’s safety with the continued number of residents from COVID hotspots in the Lower Mainland coming to the city to take their driving road tests. (Black Press Media file photo)
Students from COVID hotspots travel to Vancouver Island for driving tests

Union leader calls on government to institute stronger travel ban

The opening day on Mount Washington this year was Dec. 4. Screenshot
Mount Washington opens on time, COVID-19 protocols in place

“We’re super excited - it’s been six months in the planning.”

Most Read