Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum says the city doesn’t need to acknowledge that its council and committee meetings are being held on First Nations land before every meeting, while at the same time claiming “we treat them better in Surrey literally than anywhere.”
“I think we’re doing an excellent job currently and the First Nations are happy with what we’re doing,” McCallum said.
Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell replied Wednesday that while he can’t speak for everyone, as far as the working relationship goes he thinks “we could expand and do a lot more than we are at present.
“I find that land acknowledgments, they are good, it is good that people acknowledge the territory they are on but to me the real important aspect of that is the actual working relationships. I think we’re trying to find a simple solution to reconciliation and it’s not, it’s a very large, very, very convoluted process that we’re working into,” Chappell told the Now-Leader. “It is small steps, and it is small steps in the right direction.”
But for Councillor Jack Hundial, city council took a step backwards on Monday when the Safe Surrey Coalition on council shot down his motion calling for every council and committee meeting to be prefaced with the acknowledgment they are being held on First Nation territory.
His motion, which the SSC defeated on a five-to-four vote on Monday, called on the City of Surrey to “develop a meaningful, respectful acknowledgement before every Council and Committee meeting of our commitment as a city to reconciliation in recognition that we are settlers here on this Coast Salish Land.”
Hundial expressed shock at the response.
“I was surprised with the response I received back,” he said Tuesday. “Here’s something that six other communities in the Lower Mainland do as a progressive acknowledgement of where we are today.
“It’s the right thing to do.”
Hundial told council the reason he brought this forward is a growing number of cities are “acknowledging, and being respectful I guess, of the traditional territory that we’re on here.”
While Surrey council did have such an acknowledgement at its inaugural meeting in 2018, he noted, “of course this is over a term of four years as well and certainly the city does do I think a fairly comprehensive job at some of the outdoor events that we do have.
“We also have one of the largest urban Aboriginal populations here in the city, so for me it’s an important piece I think of our history not only as a country but as a city to make this recognition,” he told council.
Councillor Brenda Locke called Hundial’s request “an appropriate thing for the city to do.”
“I support this wholeheartedly,” she said.
Councillor Laurie Guerra did not.
“I’ve read the City of Surrey’s comprehensive – I think it’s a comprehensive Indigenous engagement policies – that guide the city’s current practice of Indigenous acknowledgment and I believe them to include everything that this notice of motion encompasses other than legislating that this acknowledgment must be made before every committee or council meeting,” she said. “Let me be clear, I have no problem with the content of the notice of motion in terms of the public acknowledgement portion, however, I do have concerns when it comes to legislating speech and making it that it’s a must.”
She said if someone chairing a city meeting wants to make an acknowledgment before the meeting they should, “but I don’t think that we should be forced to.”
Councillor Allison Patton, referring to Hundial not by name but as “that person” and the “originator” of the motion, said she thinks that “when the comment says develop a meaningful, respectful acknowledgement I do think authenticity is critical here, and I’m a bit concerned when it comes to the word authenticity and the initiator of this notice and some of the things I’ve read and seen.
“I’m just a bit concerned about the authenticity of this, the actual concept, because I’m very for things that are meaningful and respectful. I just wonder here what we’re dealing with.”
Hundial was taken aback.
“Look, if there’s something offensive to say, or something that was wrong that was said, or if you’re questioning the motivation of it, just come out and say it,” he told the Now-Leader on Tuesday. “Just ask the question, don’t skirt around it.”
Councillor Linda Annis supported Hundial’s motion, saying it’s something that should have been done a long while ago, “particularly when we are home to the largest urbanized Indigenous folks. I think it’s a very nice gesture for council to pass this.”
Councillor Doug Elford said that while he doesn’t have a problem with “meaningful, respectful acknowledgments,” he prefers that they be left up to the person chairing the meeting.
“I have similar sentiments that it shouldn’t be legislated. I think the City of Surrey does an excellent job right now and I’m satisfied with their current guidelines and policies so I will not be supporting this.”
McCallum also weighed in. He said he didn’t have a problem with the wording of the motion but would not support the motion itself.
“I think our current procedure is well-liked both by First Nations and also by our staff,” he said. “I’m not going to support it not because I don’t think it’s right, it’s because I think we’re doing an excellent job currently and the First Nations are happy with what we’re doing, it’s what they have requested us to do and so I think we carry on with our current methods which I think is well liked.”
The City of Surrey is a “leader,” McCallum said, “in dealing with First Nations.”
“They welcome me a lot,” he said of local Indigenous leaders. “They really appreciate how well we treat First Nations in Surrey, that we treat them better in Surrey literally than anywhere and they’re very appreciative. What our policy generally is, is that we recognize them on all events in Surrey, like in other words whatever goes on we recognize them off the bat rather than recognize them at council.”
“I think they have been happy,” he said. “I have not, in 12 years I will say, not a single complaint from them that we need to do what’s suggested here.”
Hundial at the meeting referred to Surrey’s Aboriginal population. McCallum and Patton spoke to this.
“I call them First Nations,” McCallum said, “because I have three grandkids that are First Nations, and they like to be called First Nations so for their benefit I’ll call them First Nations.”
Patton said during Monday’s meeting that Aboriginal people don’t like to be called Aboriginal anymore.
In her presentation before the Surrey Police Board last October, Joanne Mills, executive director of the Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Center Association, noted that roughly 13,500 Indigenous people call Surrey home.
“This is about 2.6 per cent of the total Surrey population,” she said. “Surrey has the fastest growing Indigenous population in B.C. and will surpass Vancouver by 2021 if growth trends continue. The majority of people identify as First Nations people, 56 per cent, followed by Metis at 40 per cent and Inuit, four per cent.”
Mills noted about half of Surrey’s Indigenous population is under age 27.
The Now-Leader reached out to Mills for comment Wednesday but has yet to receive a response.
Meanwhile, Chappell said Wednesday that land acknowledgements “are good,” but working relationships are the real meat of truth and reconciliation. “There’s a lot of good that can come out of First Nations and municipalities working together and that’s I think one of the struggles that we have.”
When contacted, he said he wasn’t aware of Hundial’s motion being moved or what was done with it.
“It’s kind of all news to me,” he said.