White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin has issued formal invitations to Semiahmoo First Nation to attend two upcoming city events – Canada Day by the Bay and the TD Concerts at the Pier series.
Controversy over a disinvitation to SFN leaders to May’s inaugural White Rock Busking Festival – after they had already been invited by an organizer – was one of the reasons that led Baldwin to strike a new committee of council, the intergovernmental and First Nations committee, to establish consistent policy for city dealings with other levels of government.
At the committee’s first meeting, last week, Baldwin told council members he had issued the invitations to SFN, noting that, in the case of the concerts series particularly, he was seeking to quell further controversy.
Baldwin had previously maintained at the May 28 council meeting that the invitation for the busker festival had been mistakenly issued when “a member of the committee took it upon himself to make a request, without authorization, without asking and we have the results now with respect to the buskers festival, so that’s unfortunate. He was also asked to rectify it; he did not.”
At that meeting, a motion by Coun. Helen Fathers to issue a blanket invitation to SFN to all significant city events was referred to the new committee. Fathers said at that time that she had been motivated by both the busking-festival incident and reports that the BIA had been instructed to not invite Semiahmoo First Nation to the concert series.
Both Baldwin and city chief administrative officer Dan Bottrill disputed the latter charge and have insisted that the issue is one of protocol – that official invitations to other levels of government, including SFN, should come through the mayor’s office rather than from organizers of events.
Last week, at the June 11 committee meeting, Baldwin issued a further categorical denial that there had been any directive that SFN should not be invited to city events.
“I’ve taken it upon myself to invite the Semiahmoo First Nation to the July 1 event…we’ll try that on for size, hopefully they’ll be able to come,” he said. “The same with the MP and the MLA and so on.
Baldwin said he had invited Semiahmoo First Nation to the concert series, even though he did not think a formal invitation was appropriate.
“To me, that is not an event that we would invite them to because it’s a BIA event primarily, the city’s helping,” he said. “I’m not really sure that that’s an event for what I would term political involvement.
“Nonetheless, the invitation was put out by the president of the BIA. And so, to avoid the same kind of foofaraw that we had with the buskers, I have followed that up with a letter to (Chief Harley Chappell), asking him to come to the (concerts).
“That was just simply a face-saving effort. I really don’t think that that’s appropriate, but it’s been done. Rather than embarrass anybody any farther, I have done that so that we don’t have a repeat of the other event.”
After hearing that SFN was invited to both the Canada Day and Concerts at the Pier events – and that the city and SFN are collaborating on incorporating this year’s August long-weekend Sea Festival with the First Nation’s Semiahmoo Days celebration – Fathers withdrew her original motion.
Earlier Monday, committee members had heard a report from recreation and culture director Eric Stepura in which he noted that inviting representatives of other governments – including First Nations – to major municipal events is the norm and sometimes, as in the case of Canada Day, a requirement.
“In the interest of building and maintaining positive working relationships with other levels of government, it’s common practice by municipalities to invite other municipal representatives, representatives from federal and provincial levels of government, as well as First Nation leaders, sister-city officials and other dignitaries to attend the major events hosted in a community,” Stepura said.
“There’s also, quite often, when you apply for infrastructure grants or funding for major festivals and events, a requirement on the part of the applicant to involve and get support as well as invite members of First Nation leadership to attend ceremonies at the event. This is actually a requirement of Canada Day this year. We also had the same requirement in some of the infrastructure grant applications we filled out last year with Heritage Canada.”
The recreation and culture director said the protocol for such invitations is that they come through the mayor’s office or “as delegated.”
Coun. Lynne Sinclair expressed surprise that Canada Day was ranked only as “moderately important” among city events in Stepura’s report.
“Canada Day is a major event – it always is in White Rock, and we do invite other levels of government, and we’ve always had the SFN chief provide a blessing and speak as well.”
Noting that White Rock lies within territory claimed by multiple First Nations groups, Baldwin said “it makes it awkward in some cases as to who should we invite. Are we insulting somebody or whatever by not inviting the others?”
Bottrill said city staff have been surprised to learn in recent months, from the federal Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, that no less than 17 groups have unceded territorial rights with the city, of which the principal five are SFN, the Katzie First Nation, Tsawwassen First Nation, Musqueam Nation and Tsleil-Waututh First Nation.
“It was an eye-opener for us,” Bottrill said.
However, Sinclair noted the Semiahmoo First Nation and White Rock have had a special relationship as “neighbours and friends for as long as I can remember and as long as anyone can remember.”
Baldwin added that if any other First Nations were offended by his current invitations to SFN, “that’s a risk I’m prepared to take, but we’re running out of time, and I don’t want to leave it to the last minute.”