Vancouver city council is days away from voting on an historic document involving the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations that 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 document — the first of its kind for a Canadian municipal government — proposes 79 recommendations that include returning land to the nations, creating revenue-sharing streams and having representation on the Vancouver Police Board and other agencies in the city and region.
In a ceremony Wednesday at the Museum of Vancouver, which is located on land once home to a Squamish village that was burned to the ground by government in 1913, members of the nations celebrated the release of what is called the City of Vancouver UNDRIP Strategy.
“Whether it's on economic development, whether it's on culture, whether it's on fighting discrimination, there's all kinds of things that we all win from our nations and our governments working together,” said Khelsilem, chairperson of the Squamish Nation council. “I'm very excited about the future ahead.”
UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Khelsilem and Vancouver Coun. Christine Boyle are co-chairs of a task force created last year by the city and nations to develop a strategy to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and use it as a framework towards reconciliation.
The comprehensive document, which has been endorsed by the three nations, will go before city council at its Oct. 25 meeting at city hall. If it passes, an implementation plan would be drafted and inter-governmental committee created to ensure action is taken on the recommendations.
Some of the recommendations include:
• Have the city work with the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh to identify parcels of land which are “culturally, economically and socially significant” and return them to the nations.
• Identify options for revenue sharing to the three nations via property taxes collected by the City of Vancouver.
• Redistribute fees to the nations that the city collects from developers; this would be seen as redress for lands lost that cannot be developed by the nations.
• Expand the Vancouver Police Board membership to include representatives from the three nations.
• Provide funds, staff and space for the nations to train liaisons with the Vancouver Police Department, particularly in the Downtown Eastside, where there is a large Indigenous population.
• Prioritize affordable housing for the nations that go beyond reserve lands.
• Undisputed access to municipal services for reduced or minimal fees to affordable housing projects on reserve lands.
• Reconciliation curricula in schools that teach the relationships between the three nations and the land and its people.
• Identify and address barriers including but not limited to parking fees and time limits.
• Improve recruitment, retention and advancement of Indigenous peoples in City of Vancouver careers.
• Shape a process for the Vancouver Economic Commission to bring its policies and procedures in alignment with UNDRIP to include and reflect the nations and support their economic prosperity.
• Update City of Vancouver procurement policies to ensure contract opportunities are reserved for businesses owned by or partnered with the three nations.
Boyle said she was honoured to be a co-chair of the task force and was confident council would pass the strategy next week. It will be the last formal meeting of the current council before mayor-elect Ken Sim and the newly elected council is sworn in Nov. 7.
“The task force has had representation from multiple political parties through its work and has always very intentionally not been political,” she told reporters after the ceremony. “So I'm optimistic it will pass unanimously and that the next council will step in to continue the work in that same spirit.”
During the ceremony, Boyle described the City of Vancouver as a colonial institution that for decades upheld harmful colonial practices and laws. She pointed out the city’s homeless population continues to be overrepresented by Indigenous peoples, while others live in precarious housing situations.
“Implementing UNDRIP at every level, including the city level, is an important act of redress and reconciliation,” said Boyle, who was re-elected in Saturday’s election. “It's also a transformative opportunity for all of us together to fix broken systems and build stronger relationships with one another, and the land and the water.”
Several members of each nation spoke during the lengthy ceremony, including Musqueam elder Larry Grant, who said he was hopeful the UNDRIP strategy would address the city’s colonial past, present and future.
“One hundred and fifty some odd years after Confederation, we are being given consideration as human beings of this land, of this country, of this world,” he told the crowd, which included Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald, Regional Chief of the Assembly of BC First Nations Terry Teegee and Vancouver-Point Grey MLA David Eby, who is expected to become B.C.’s next premier.
Teegee commended the City of Vancouver for taking the lead on a strategy with the nations, adding that he hoped it would influence other municipalities to do the same.
"You're blazing the trail, and that's really important," he said.
Archibald welcomed the nations and the city joining together to draft the document but cautioned that reconciliation is still a work in progress.
“The other day I did an interview about reconciliation, and I said, ‘If reconciliation is a 12-chapter book, we are on the first chapter,’” she said. “But we are only on the first sentence of the first chapter, and that's what this event is about.”
Former city councillor Andrea Reimer was overcome with emotion as she spoke, pointing out Indigenous leaders such as Lillian Howard, who died last year, couldn't be present to witness the ceremony.
"I'm thinking a lot about this importance of the past and the future, and you can't create a future that doesn't have a past as its foundation," said Reimer, who spent her years on council pushing for reconciliation and improving relations with First Nations.
'Racism within our city'
After the ceremony, reporters asked members of the task force what recommendations they believed would bring the most concrete change.
Councillor Charlene Aleck of Tsleil-Waututh: “Having the representation of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh within their territories and being prevalent in not only the land…art, or the culture that's present within the city, but being present at tables and implementing our Coast Salish laws in economic [ways], in education, in corporations, organizations and it cascading down into all the other fields within the city.”
Councillor Allyson Fraser of Musqueam: “One of the calls to action that I would like to see worked on is racism within our city. As my family member Wade Grant [said during the ceremony] is that I come from a background of an Aboriginal person, as well as Chinese ancestry. So we know that within the city of Vancouver, there has been a lot of racism going on. And I'd like to see that our children are being brought up in a community where we can all work together and live together, and I think that this document will bring that forward.”
Councillor Dennis Thomas of Tsleil-Waututh: “The economic and revenue sharing is one thing that I'd like to see being fulfilled. And another one is the generational transformative work that we've put into this document needs to be shared with different organizations, different committees and different workforces like the parks board and VPD.”
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.
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.