Opinion: Yes, reconciliation is the ‘domain’ of New West council

Chris Campbell

When you are editor of a community newspaper, you hear a lot of theories about how things are supposed to be.

Some are legitimate theories, some are what I would politely refer as the crackpot variety.

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They all flow into my email or Twitter DMs. I generally enjoy the letters to the editor we receive here at the New Westminster Record, but some of the assertions made by letter writers are pretty frustrating because of their wilful ignorance.

One common contention that really bothers me is that New Westminster council has no business implementing programs aimed at reconciliation with the Indigenous community.

One recent letter said reconciliation should be the “domain” of provincial and federal governments, not New West council. This sentiment has been repeated in some other letters I’ve received, usually associated with the topic of property tax increases. The idea being that New West shouldn’t spend money on reconciliation because it’s somehow not their business and only makes taxes go up.

That is ridiculous to the point of being offensive.

reconciliation walk
Survivors of residential schools were given their own seating area to watch the speakers at Sunday morning’s ceremony prior to the reconciliation walk that started at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. - Rebecca Blissett

First, it’s just plain wrong. Some people have this old-fashioned idea that city councils are only about fixing potholes, managing recycling and considering property rezoning applications. Sure, that’s a big part of what councils do, but local politicians are tasked with so much more. Their job is to make our communities better places to live – for all of our citizens, not just white people who want things to “be like they used to be,” whatever that is.

City politicians today are pushing the envelope with innovative ideas on everything from curbing renovictions to developing child care to ensuring people don’t have to live on the streets.

And, yes, working to deal with the systemic racism faced by the local Indigenous community – both in the past and the present – comes under that broad umbrella as well.

Towards this goal, the city has hired a consultant to help develop a plan for reconciling its past and present relationships with the Indigenous community.

The scope of consultant’s work includes:

* Preparing for internal reconciliation workshops, in the context of New Westminster, with the mayor and council, senior staff and the school district and facilitating those 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 comprehensive and culturally competent workshop series, with a focus on truth sharing and strengthening relationships with the purpose of developing shared recommendations to the city. The consultant will provide support to plan, coordinate and facilitate these workshops, with the dialogue emerging from these workshop contributing to the city’s vision of reconciliation.

Council has 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.

The cost of these actions and the consultant is a pittance compared to a budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And even if these steps were more expensive, so what? You can’t put a price tag on doing the right thing and this is clearly the right thing.

Canada’s relationship with First Nations is broken. It’s always been broken. That’s what happens when your government pursues genocidal policies through such things as ripping children away from their families and forcing them into residential schools. (Indigenous children are still be ripped away from their families, by the way.)

I applaud New West’s efforts to pursue the reconciliation process locally, but our city is in tough because our federal and provincial governments are currently setting fire to any semblance of a relationship with many First Nations through a multitude of actions.

Lastly, I don’t really believe this opposition to reconciliation efforts in New West is about the money. I think if local reconciliation efforts cost a hundred bucks you’d still hear grumbling from some people – taxes are just a handy way to hide some people's true feelings.

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.

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