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New West takes bold reconciliation step with history training for city staff

New Westminster will do a “deep dive” to get at the truth so it can tackle reconciliation. On Monday, city council has approved a motion by Coun. Nadine Nakagawa, with input from Coun.
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New Westminster will do a “deep dive” to get at the truth so it can tackle reconciliation.

On Monday, city council has approved a motion by Coun. Nadine Nakagawa, with input from Coun. Chuck Puchmayr, that includes a number of steps for the city, including:

* Making it mandatory for all city staff to attend training on the history and legacy of residential schools.

* Providing mayor and council with training to understand the legacy of residential schools and colonialism.

* Undertaking research to understand which Nations have a relationship to this land.

* Undertaking research to better understand the historical actions of the city as they relate to First Nations.

* Ensuring this research respects and incorporates the experiences and stories of the First Nations that claim the territory upon which New Westminster is built to ensure the history isn’t told from a colonial perspective; and sharing this information with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

* Providing the community with opportunities to learn the history and legacy of colonialism in New Westminster.

* Establishing a formal territorial acknowledgement built from the information learned from First Nations during the research process, and having the territorial acknowledgment approved by First Nations that claim the territory before it’s formally adopted by the city.

While the city has already brought in consultants to develop a framework for truth and reconciliation, Nakagawa said her motion  represents “a historical deep dive” to understand the city’s actions, and is similar to work the city previously did related to Chinese reconciliation.

“I believe that this is an opportunity for us, members of council, the city as an entity and the public to learn about the history of New Westminster together,” she said. “This motion dovetails with the work of the consultants. We are moving forward to develop relationships and a framework on reconciliation, but we can’t forget that truth needs to come before, or in this case, alongside reconciliation.”

While councillors Chinu Das and Patrick Johnstone fully support the city’s efforts regarding truth and reconciliation, they expressed concern about how the initiatives included in the motion would mesh with work that’s already underway by the consultants. They supported tabling the motion and having a meaningful discussion in a workshop with staff and consultants about how it dovetails with the work that’s already underway and ensuring work isn’t being duplicated.

“I suggest we take this dialogue back into workshop, and we do it with the benefit of having staff and consultants here, so we can actually have an understanding of what the resources are going to be required and how we are going to prioritize these jobs,” Johnstone said. “In that sense, I can’t support this motion because I think it is a separation somewhat of the process we have already started. It could potentially represent a step backwards because we are now creating uncertainty about the role of our consultants, our staff, without going back into a workshop format.”

In a four to two vote, New Westminster city council approved the motion.

Coun. Mary Trentadue supports the idea of council and staff training related to truth and reconciliation.

“I think that is hugely important,” she said. “If we are going to be asked to make decisions and have conversations around truth and reconciliation, I would like us all to be working from the same baseline of information.”

Mayor Jonathan Cote is confident the city can coordinate the truth and reconciliation initiatives to ensure work isn’t being duplicated.

“What I have consistently heard in the listening that I have tried to do, is the truth has to go with it,” Nakagawa said. “I don’t want to lose any aspect of that truth in our process, because I do not think that we, as a city, can get to reconciliation without having as much of the truth told as possible. That’s really the intention of this motion.”