A view of Surrey City Hall. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)

A view of Surrey City Hall. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)

Surrey looking for more ways to engage with city’s large Indigenous population

Roughly 13,500 Indigenous people call Surrey home

The City of Surrey is looking for ways to better engage with this city’s Indigenous population. Toward that end, council approved a corporate report on Sept. 13 with recommendations that it acknowledge National Truth and Reconciliation Day on Sept. 30 and that this be proclaimed a special day in Surrey at the next regular council meeting set for Sept. 27.

It also authorized staff to continue to work on the “feasibility of implementing” the Surrey Urban Indigenous Leadership Committee’s recommendations and report back to council “as appropriate.”

Last October the Surrey Police Board endorsed an “Indigenization Strategy’ for the Surrey Police Service, which has yet to replace the Surrey RCMP.

Joanne Mills, executive director of the Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Center Association, told the board 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 that of Surrey’s Indigenous population, about half is under age 27.

According to the corporate report by Jean Lamontagne, the city’s general manager of planning and development, in 2016 council adopted a report by the SUILC’s strategy which identified 14 “key findings” related to Surrey’s Indigeous population and in June of this year unanimously adopted a motion by Coun. Jack Hundial that directed city staff to “fully consider” recommendations contained in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s “Call to Action” report.

READ ALSO: Surrey Police Board endorses ‘Indigenization Strategy’ for new police force

‘The city continues to work collaboratively with Katzie First Nation, Kwantlen First Nation and Semiahmoo First and other Indigenous partners on a number of engagement initiatives,” Lamontagne noted. “Initiatives are expansive and include special events, infrastructure upgrades, emergency management response coordination, public art projects, exhibitions at cultural institutions, and sport hosting.”

Coun. Laurie Guerra said this is one of the most prominent issues Surrey has faced in years and is proud of city staff for the “hard work” done.

Coun. Linda Annis asked staff if the city has any provisions in its RFP (request for proposal) process provisions to encourage Indigenous companies to make RFPs to the city and if there is “ongoing dialogue” between city hall and Indigenous people who live and work in Surrey on how the city might collaborate on providing additional municipal services to them.

“I know we have collaborated on some things,” she said. “I know there is a lot of work to be done in that regard.”

City manager Vince Lalonde replied that consultation with First Nations is “ongoing for sure,” and as far as contracts and RFPs are concerned, the provincial government mainly deals with that.

“We don’t have in our RFP anything that specifies partnerships although often when we work with other levels of government in the province on a bigger project such as Pattullo Bridge or some of our SkyTrain, then there is provisions for partnerships in those RFPs,” he said.

Donna Jones, Surrey’s general manager of investment and intergovernmental relations, said the city makes an effort to work with the provincial government “any chance we get to help to connect our First Nation residents to opportunities.”

“A good example is one that Vince just mentioned about the building of the Pattullo Bridge, so we worked quite extensively with the province on creating a program whereby we reach out specifically to our First Nations community to ensure they are made aware of job opportunities related to that project,” she said. “In terms of our business community, we work with all sections of our business community including those that are Indigenous-based or Indigenous-owned. I think that we can put an additional emphasis on that, we can work towards that in the future, doing more of that.”

Scott Neuman, Surrey’s general manager of engineering, said First Nations are included in engineering projects involving archaelogy.

“Let’s say for example Crescent Beach, we do actively involve the nations and they do have labour components involved,” he told council.

Council also on Sept. 13 approved a partnering and lease agreement for “use of space” by Métis Family Services at the City Centre Sports Complex, at 13458-107A Ave. in Whalley and to support La Societe De Les Enfants Michif for provincial capital funding ($2.8 million) for the construction of a 57-space childcare facility within the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre expansion at that same location.

Laurie Cavan, Surrey’s general manager of parks, recreation and culture, noted that Surrey’s urban Indigenous population is the fastest growing and largest in B.C.

“The Indigenous community in Surrey also experiences one of the highest children and youth poverty rates in the region,” she told council in a corporate report.

“As one of the few Indigenous-led organizations in Surrey, Métis Family Services provides child safety and family support services. There is a substantial need within the Métis community and Surrey for culturally relevant and safe childcare spaces for Métis and urban Indigenous peoples. Quality early childhood experiences for young Indigenous children that are culturally relevant can be a powerful equalizer to ensuring that they are given the best chances to thrive later in life.

Cavan said the proposed Indigenous childcare is designed to provide culturally safe and “trauma informed wrap-around services for Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.

“The program is inclusive to Indigenous and Non-Indigenous children although priority will be given to Métis, First Nations and Inuit children and families in Surrey and the surrounding areas,” Cavan said.

The lease agreement is for 25 years and includes 3,095 square feet of indoor space and a 1,500 square foot dedicated outdoor area.

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