Hurt and disappointed – that’s how Qayqayt First Nation Chief Rhonda Larrabee felt after attending Monday night’s city council meeting.
On Monday, council considered a motion by Coun. Chuck Puchmayr to ask Metro Vancouver to rename Sapperton Landing Park as Qayqayt Landing Park. Council, however, opposed the motion, preferring to consider the idea within the context of the work the city’s doing around reconciliation.
“If they had voted yes, it would have said to me that they were on the path to reconciliation and were reaching out to Qayqayt by acknowledging that yes, they see me,” said Qayqayt First Nation Chief Rhonda Larrabee. “It wasn’t the point of the park in the end, it was the point of the relationship I thought we had.”
Larrabee said the proposal still had to be considered by Metro Vancouver so it didn’t mean it was going to happen.
“That is where our village was. There were 400 who were on the banks of the river,” she told the Record Tuesday. “Actually, in 1859 it was mayor and council who said they wanted that village of Qayqayt people moved out of the city limits because they were being named the capital of the Colony of B.C. That also struck me last night that this was mayor and council again – from 1859 to 2019.”
Larrabee said council’s support for the motion would have been a “gesture” that meant so much to Qayqayt, even if the idea was rejected by Metro Vancouver.
“I was very surprised that the opinions that they voiced about speaking with the truth and reconciliation committee that they have,” she said. “This committee has not reached out to Qayqayt. Why haven’t they spoken to me?”
Puchmayr said he was “a little bit surprised” that council wasn’t more supportive of the motion, even after he amended the motion to approve the idea in principle, to engage with Larrabee and the Qayqayt and to start the process of presenting the idea to Metro Vancouver.
“I wasn’t angry. I was disappointed, definitely,” he later told the Record. “I don’t see this issue any differently than the Begbie statue issue.”
While it’s fine to have consultants working on reconciliation, Puchmayr said he doesn’t see the purpose of having the consultant dealing with this issue as it’s a matter involving the city, Metro Vancouver and Qayqayt First Nation.
“There are other pieces of the reconciliation that would be over and above what the consultant does,” he said. “It wasn’t a very large contract. They have their plate full.”
Although council defeated his motion to support renaming of Sapperton Landing Park, Puchmayr is “pretty optimistic” it will happen at some point.
“People were uncomfortable with the process, as a couple were with the Begbie statue. If it gives more comfort to create an extended process for it and further consultation, I am happy with that,” he said. “I think we will get there.”
Coun. Chinu Das reiterated her belief that the city needs to stick with the process because it is considering both truth and reconciliation.
“Once you have that understanding of the truth, then we can try and identify what are these meaningful actions that we can take towards reconciliation,” she said.
Mayor Jonathan Cote stands by council’s decision to remove the Judge Begbie statue from in front of the court house because it sent “a strong message that we are serious about reconciliation and that was a very bold and symbolic move” but feels that decision “falls short in many regards” from a process point-of-view.
“I do think we need to get back to a more genuine process with respect to reconciliation. To me, I see the reconciliation process bringing actions forward for us to us to consider and us not individually bringing things forward. I guess that’s where I would much rather prefer that this item be referred into our reconciliation process,” he said. “I think this is a wonderful idea and I’d love to engage Metro but I don't think I’m quite there at this point, and I don’t think our reconciliation process is there at this point either.”
Coun. Jaimie McEvoy, who seconded Puchmayr’s motion, said the city removed the Begbie statue in direct consultation with the Tsilhqot’in First Nation, more than as part of its reconciliation process. He said the city’s longstanding relationship with Qayqayt “isn’t just on hold” because of the broader work it’s doing with reconciliation.
Council referred the motion to its reconciliation process and supported a motion to meet with Larrabee.
In addition to a motion to rename Sapperton Landing Park, Puchmayr has also proposed renaming Begbie Square and Begbie Street to Chief Ahan Square and Chief Ahan Street. Although the motions were set to be considered at the Sept. 9 council meeting, Puchmayr asked that they be deferred until a meeting in October.
Questioned later about why he asked that the motion be deferred, Puchmayr said he didn’t “feel comfortable” he had support for the motion and thought it may need a little more work to get council’s support.
Begbie Square and Begbie Square are located in the vicinity of the site where Tsilhqot’in Chief Ahan was wrongfully executed in 1865.
In February, the city approved $65,000 to hire city hired the Castlemain Group to develop a communication and relationship-building process where all parties can share their experience and their vision for reconciliation. The consultant’s work plan includes: preparing for internal reconciliation workshops; working with the city to develop profiles of Indigenous communities that identify parts of New Westminster as part of their traditional territories and Indigenous organizations providing services to Indigenous residents of New Westminster; developing a workshop series that focuses on truth sharing and strengthening relationships; and presenting the city with a draft reconciliation framework in 2020.
In the spring, council approved a number of motions related to reconciliation, including removing the Begbie statue. It also approved a motion that included a number of actions 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 and to better understand the historical actions of the city as they relate to First Nations; and providing the community with opportunities to learn the history and legacy of colonialism in New Westminster.