Terry Teegee: Local governments need to consider how their actions contribute to — or hinder — reconciliation

Topic(s): Reconciliation

Opinion: To begin the process of ending racism and discrimination towards First Nations, municipalities must require their staff to participate in cultural awareness and humility training.

The voters in B.C. have spoken. Across the province, many incumbents have been forced out, with new mayors and council members elected by communities looking for change. I would like to welcome these new representatives and, of course, welcome back all who won re-election.

Historically, First Nations have had a very close relationship with the federal government above all others. Since time immemorial, our relationship with newcomers has been based on trade, relationships and protocol. First Nations maintain jurisdiction and unique rights protected by Sec. 35 of the Constitution and international law. We have world-class negotiators and diplomats as we work through treaty negotiations and other constructive arrangements. We continue to forge closer bonds with municipalities as part of our shared path toward reconciliation.

First, it is essential to note that municipalities bear responsibilities under B.C.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act action plan. Local governments are directed to advance First Nations participation in regional district boards. They are also directed to evolve naming practices to foster reconciliation.

To these important steps, I would add the importance of ending racism and discrimination towards First Nations. To begin, municipalities must require their staff to participate in cultural awareness and humility training.

Local governments also need to consider how their actions contribute to — or hinder — reconciliation, including understanding how each department’s budget incorporates reconciliation. Without putting reconciliation directly into budget decisions, there is no way to track the effectiveness of efforts to decolonize municipal governments.

The announcement last week of Vancouver’s reconciliation plan co-developed with First Nations — the first of its kind — is of course a step in the right direction here and should be replicated in every city and town across the province.

When asked about the priorities they want to see addressed by mayors and councils, chiefs in B.C. ranked housing and homelessness at the top of the list. Intergenerational trauma caused by residential schools and the overwhelming number of First Nations children placed in foster care means that First Nations are overrepresented on the streets in this province.

In Prince George, where the B.C. Assembly of First Nations main office is located, 70 per cent of unhoused residents are Indigenous and 50 per cent were in government care as children. We have heard that municipal leaders want to prioritize housing affordability, homelessness, and the opioid crisis. The assembly reminds municipalities that collaboration with First Nations, on whose land your cities and towns sit, is key to successfully addressing these issues.

Chiefs also pointed to the importance of collaborating on economic development with our neighbouring municipalities. As economic reconciliation and wealth building becomes a reality for First Nations in B.C., we will be in the market for partnerships with businesses and municipalities in our territories. It is of utmost importance that cities and towns reach out to their neighbouring First Nations to establish connections between their economic development priorities.

Considering that municipalities either have their own police force or a contract with the RCMP, policing reform is a topic that First Nations and municipalities should approach together.

First Nations peoples continue to be over-policed across the country, making up 30 per cent of admissions to provincial custody and 29 per cent to federal custody, while only making up four per cent of the national population.

Considering newly elected Vancouver mayor Ken Sim campaigned to increase the number of police in Vancouver, I ask him and all municipal leaders to direct your police toward training in cultural awareness and limit their use of force to stop preventable deaths of First Nations people at the hands of police. We must stamp out systemic racism against First Nations in policing services — part of this solution includes the support for First Nations police forces in B.C.

Finally, we are in a climate emergency. Increased climate-related fires and floods across B.C. highlight the importance of working together on all aspects of emergency management. There have been great strides in how the province recognizes and cooperates with First Nations during emergencies. Evacuees from First Nations and non-First Nations communities impacted by emergencies consistently make their way to emergency shelters provided in partnership with municipal authorities in B.C. There is clearly an opportunity for our two levels of government to work collaboratively in delivering services and ensuring that victims of these emergencies are well cared for.

Once again, I welcome back all who were re-elected, and wish the best of luck to newly elected representatives. B.C. is finally beginning to address the destructive legacy of colonialism, and you, as local leaders, have a central role to play.

Terry Teegee is the regional chief for the B.C. Assembly of First Nations.