There's never been an Indigenous mayor of Vancouver since the city was incorporated in 1886.
But Ian Campbell could change that and make history.
In a phone interview with the Straight, the 44-year-old hereditary chief and elected councillor of the Squamish First Nation said that he's seriously considering seeking the Vision Vancouver nomination for mayor.
"We're all in the same canoe but there are many different paddlers," Campbell said. "So I think the idea of we're a large village—we're a family made up of many diverse players—that excites me on how we can inspire."
If he becomes mayor, he would be the fourth with the surname "Campbell" after Tom, Gordon, and Larry.
So why Vision Vancouver?
Campbell said he has been impressed by the party's steps toward reconciliation.
That's been reflected in last year's launch of the Canada 150+ celebrations to recognize the city's Aboriginal history, giving an Indigenous name to a Downtown Eastside library branch, and holding two well-attended walks for reconciliation.
"They've demonstrated tangible results over the years that have changed the narrative," Campbell said. "That certainly is far different than the reality of my parents' era, my grandparents' era."
He also stated that he's inspired by Vancouver's multiculturalism.
According to Campbell, reconciliation "can expand beyond Crown-First Nations relationships and really look at the diversity of our communities and how we can celebrate that and showcase that".
"It's a pivotal moment in our collective histories," he said. "That's inspired me to seriously look at this opportunity."
Campbell's ancestral name is Xalek and he was born in Port Mellon.
He was raised by his grandparents, who enabled him to learn the Squamish language. And unlike his parents and grandparents, he never attended residential schools.
Since 1999 he has been the cultural ambassador and negotiator for the Squamish Nation's intergovernmental relations department.
In that role, he's been involved in negotiations on such major issues as vessel traffic through the Port of Vancouver, renewing a 60-year lease with the operator of skiing facilities on Blackcomb and Whistler mountains, and agreements with federal and provincial governments.
He revealed that his grandfather, Chief Lawrence Baker, groomed him from a young age to be a hereditary chief and to accept "the responsibilities that go with being a servant for the community".
"I've had many mentors in my life who inspired me, supported me, encouraged me," Campbell said. "I feel like a relay runner where the baton has been passed to me to continue to build."
Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer is one of Campbell's strongest supporters, noting that he has been "negotiating some of the most difficult discussions in this country in an urban conext with both the provincial and federal governments".
"This is a big idea," she told the Straight. "For young Indigenous people to look at Mayor Ian Campbell and say, 'I can do that, the possibility is available to me,' it's a huge moment."
Reimer underscored that many people don't understand the complexity of Indigenous governance. It can encompass everything from providing sewage and water to delivering social services, as well as land-use planning, policing, and other responsibilities.
She emphasized that Campbell "is very good at bringing people together". And she added that this now a preoccupation for people on the progressive side of the political spectrum.
"Electoral politics in First Nations involves working with a lot of different factions," she said. "They don't have big party blocs the way that we do. It doesn't even begin to phase him—the idea that you have to pull may different points of view behind a common vision."
In addition, Reimer highlighted his strong spiritual connection to the land.
Campbell has been one of B.C.'s strongest advocates for the revival of Indigenous languages.
The Sea to Sky Highway includes signs in the Squamish language that remind motorists and cyclists that they're on traditional territory of Campbell's people.
He said that more can be done in Vancouver to reveal a history that many local residents aren't aware of.
"I think they would be quite excited to learn the stories, the place names, the mythology, the history that has never been showcased before and, in fact, systematically denied in the past," Campbell stated. "I think it's a great opportunity to introduce those tpes of knowledge that incorporate language and culture."
He recently returned from a trip to New Zealand, where there is a much greater presence of Maori culture and the language in place names across the country than what's seen in Vancouver.
"Everything is Anglicized here, with English Bay, Stanley Park, those types of things."
The Straight asked if he would be prepared to rename Trutch Street on the city's West Side.
It's named after Joseph Trutch, a colonial chief commissioner of land who demonstrated odious contempt for First Nations and their land claims.
"Ha ha ha, that's something I would be happy to look into if I was successful in moving this forward," Campbell said. "It's a really good question around the type of identity and what we're celebrating as a community."More