Vancouver park board election ensures reconciliation efforts will continue with local First Nations

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      Mostly outside of the eyes of the media, the Vancouver park board has embarked on a reconciliation project that may exceed the efforts of almost every other municipal government body in the province.

      The latest move in that direction occurred on September 17 when the board unanimously approved Stuart Mackinnon's motion to work with the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations to identify traditional names of land under its jurisdiction.

      Commissioners voted in favour of recognizing these traditional names and examining ways to acknowledge them at parks, beaches, and other public spaces.

      On July 23, the board received a staff report highlighting initial findings of a "colonial audit".

      "One of the core acts of colonialism enacted by settlers is the theft of lands and removal of entire communities from their ancestral homes," it states. "This core act of colonialism has been undertaken by the Park Board since its inception—beginning with the declaration of jurisdiction over 'Stanley Park', as well as beach areas around the City, that were both [of] cultural significance and home to local nations."

      Commissioners also approved proceeding with a comprehensive colonial audit into how Indigenous people and their history have been treated by the board since the 1800s—and what should be done to improve policies.

      In addition, the board approved Mackinnon's motion to "seek an opportunity to formally acknowledge and apologize to representatives of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples for the colonial history and actions of the Vancouver Park Board".

      These policies will remain as a result of the October 20 election.

      That's because Mackinnon, who's been one of the chief proponents, topped the polls, capturing 73,718 votes.

      The Green commissioner's two party colleagues, Dave Dermers and Camil Dumont, came second and third in the park-board race.

      Demers promised on his website to fulfill the board's promise to undertake a colonial audit.

      Dumont was endorsed by David Suzuki, one of the country's foremost advocates for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

      "I believe we need to prioritize the de-colonization narrative," Dumont told the Vancouver Public Space Network in response to its survey of candidates. "We need community based research and outreach to inform what the best and most effective steps are in reconciliation and healing."

      The park board's moves toward reconciliation have been backed by NPA commissioner John Coupar, who was reelected.

      The NPA's other commissioner-elect, Tricia Barker, told the Vancouver Public Space Network that she too supports the ongoing reconciliation with First Nations through "listening, understanding, and then acting".

      Rounding out the new board will be two very progressive COPE candidates, Gwen Giesbrecht and John Irwin. It would be inconceivable for them to go against these measures.

      In fact, Giesbrecht declared her unequival support in the Vancouver Public Space Network survey.

      "How? Acknowledging first of all that we have been remiss in not giving the respect, and in not understanding how important the shaping of what community is, when seen through the cultural lens of Indigenous people," she stated. "Next step, reach out, be educated, respect and embrace what we learn, embed it everywhere in the public realm."