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Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh nations want seats on Vancouver Police Board

Musqueam Indian Band member expected to be newest appointee.
Squamish Nation councillor Wilson Williams, seen here at a news event last summer in Vancouver, wants a member of his nation to be appointed to the Vancouver Police Board.

Councillors from the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations say they each want one of their members appointed to the Vancouver Police Board, which currently has three vacancies.

The requests from Wilson Williams and Charlene Aleck come as the provincial government is in discussions with the Musqueam Indian Band to appoint one of its members to the board.

“Squamish Nation is an integral part of the City of Vancouver, and always has been,” said Wilson, who currently sits as a member of the West Vancouver Police Board. “Just because we're out of sight, out of mind and were kicked out of our villages doesn't change that. It's home to us.”

He said it is important to have Indigenous voices on a board that oversees policies of a police department that has had its challenges with Indigenous peoples. The missing and murdered women investigations and the death of Frank Paul were cases he recalled.

The handcuffing of an Indigenous grandfather and his 12-year-old granddaughter outside a Vancouver BMO branch, concerns raised by Indigenous parents over the VPD’s school liaison officer program and overrepresentation of Indigenous people being “street checked” by police have been other high-profile issues.

Recently, the department also released data showing Indigenous girls under 18 years old were the most overrepresented victims of violence in Vancouver over a 12-month period.

“If there's Indigenous ways and strategies around solutions, now is the time to do it,” he said, noting the City of Vancouver has declared itself a city of reconciliation. “We need leaders at the board level represented by the nations to help move things forward in a good, strategic way.”

Faye Wightman, Rachel Roy

Currently, there are three vacancies on the Vancouver board. The vacancies occurred after Faye Wightman resigned this month and Rachel Roy left in June 2023. Merrilee Robson did not have her term renewed by the provincial government.

Aleck, who sits on an Indigenous advisory committee of the Vancouver Police Department, said the Tsleil-Waututh have made it known to the police board that the nation wants representation.

In a series of email exchanges over the past week with the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, a communications representative told Glacier Media the ministry is working with Musqueam to appoint a representative to the board.

The ministry wouldn’t disclose the person’s name.

Messages left this week for Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow, the nation’s communications manager and executive assistant to the chief and councillors were not returned before this story was posted.

Wendy John, Wade Grant

The Musqueam have previously had representation on the board, both with former Musqueam chief Wendy John and her son, Wade Grant. Jerry Adams of Nisga’a Nation and Claire Marshall of the Millbrook First Nation have also served on the board.

The board has not had representation from the Squamish or Tsleil-Waututh nations over the past two decades, if ever. Their desire to have members appointed to the board is not a sudden request but one outlined in Vancouver’s UNDRIP strategy.

The historic document, which was approved by city council in October 2022, aims to create a pathway to implement a long list of recommendations to address the city’s colonial past and recognize rights and title of Indigenous peoples.

The strategy recommends that Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh each have a seat on the board. Vancouver is home to all three nations’ traditional territories — a fact that Mayor Ken Sim recognizes when he begins police board and council meetings.

The strategy also recommends the three nations “and the diverse Indigenous populations living in the city” be included in the development of the police department’s business and strategy plans “to ensure the priorities are upholding UNDRIP and that the UNDRIP articles are embedded within all police business.”

Senakw development

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007. Since then, the Canadian government passed the UNDRIP Act in 2021 and the B.C. government passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act in 2019.

Williams said the vacancies on the police board provides an opportune time to appoint a member from each of the three nations, whose government-to-government relationships with the City of Vancouver have grown since the 2010 Winter Olympics.

In addition, the three nations have formed the MST Development Corporation and have plans to redevelop the Jericho Lands and other properties in Metro Vancouver. The Squamish alone is currently building one of the biggest rental housing complexes in Vancouver.

Called Senakw, which is in recognition of nation’s ancestral village in the area, the development adjacent to the Burrard Bridge features 6,000 rental units, with at least 300 secured for Squamish members.

Williams didn’t have an estimate of how many Squamish members live in Vancouver, but said it was significant, noting anywhere from 50 to 70 members are homeless.

“We have a growing Squamish nation community in Vancouver,” he said. “We need to be an integral part of the police board. I feel we can be a major part of solutions and strategic measures of a true vision of Vancouver moving forward.”

'Next round of appointments'

Jason Kuzminski, executive director of the police board, said in an email that the provincial government has been interviewing candidates for the three board vacancies, including from the three nations.

“Last year and since, the board asked the province to prioritize selection of a First Nations appointee, and the province has indicated that the next round of appointments should address this need,” Kuzminski said.

The provincial government approves all police board member appointments, except for one by city council; the current city appointee is Lorraine Lowe, longtime executive director of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, who will soon join the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre Society as its executive director.

The other board members are finance expert Frank Chong, lawyer Allan Black, business leader Comfort Sakoma-Fadugba and Patricia Barnes, executive director of the Hastings-Sunrise business improvement association.

Sim doubles as chairperson of the board, a position delegated to a sitting mayor under the Police Act, which is expected to undergo changes in this spring’s sitting of the provincial legislature.

Note: In 2016, the Vancouver Courier published a series that examined Vancouver through an Indigenous lens. Stories included the city's role in reconciliation, economic development, education, policing and interviews with elders.

Musqueam knowledge keeper Shane Pointe was also featured.