National Aboriginal Day 2017: Ginger Gosnell-Myers works to build a City of Reconciliation

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      She was raised in a small village that later became the setting of a landmark First Nations treaty in B.C.

      She’s now a young adult, and her job is to see that the spirit of reconciliation with indigenous peoples lives in the programs of a big city.

      Ginger Gosnell-Myers is the aboriginal relations manager for the City of Vancouver. Her passion for fostering native causes is driven by her traditional upbringing on the northwest coast as well as her early experiences in urban centres.

      “I grew up in my village of New Aiyansh. It’s in the Nisga’a territory. It’s isolated, and it’s incredibly beautiful,” Gosnell-Myers told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      Her father was a fisherman, and she recalls spending springs and summers out on the ocean with her family, catching halibut and salmon.

      “It was life on the water. It was life on the coast,” Gosnell-Myers said.

      When they weren’t fishing, they would be out on the land picking berries and herbs while her father hunted.

      “We lived a very traditional lifestyle,” she said.

      The daughter of a Kwakwaka’wakw artist from Vancouver Island also remembers growing up watching her mother create colourful images.

      “I posed for some of her paintings. She was a photographer as well,” she recalled.

      As a Gosnell, she came from a family that was instrumental in negotiating the first modern-day treaty by a First Nation in B.C.

      Her uncle, Joseph Gosnell, was the president of the tribal council when the Nisga’a Treaty was initialled in 1998 in New Aiyansh, now called Gitlaxt’aamiks in the native language.

      She remembers extended family dinners and community feasts, where the talk was mostly about the recognition of native land and the right to self-government.

      “Growing up in such an environment, you can’t help but be inspired and motivated to be part of that and to carry it forward,” Gosnell-Myers said.

      Since Ginger Gosnell-Myers was appointed as Vancouver's manager of aboriginal relations, the municipal government has embarked on several initiatives to boost the profile of the urban indigenous community.
      B.C. Healthy Communities

      When she was taking up postsecondary studies, she was troubled hearing negative stereotypes about native people.

      “It bothered me because it didn’t reflect my reality,” Gosnell-Myers said. “It didn’t represent my family, and…it didn’t describe my friends and my community.”

      As a student, she honed her skills in research after discovering that there weren’t enough studies written by indigenous scholars about First Nations people.

      “We are more than what Canadians think of us and see of us,” she said. “We are vibrant. We are funny. We are artistic and creative…We’re a good community.”

      She used to work with the McCreary Centre Society, where she focused on young aboriginal people. From 2008 to 2011, Gosnell-Myers steered the Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study by the Toronto-based Environics Institute for Survey Research.

      In 2013, Gosnell-Myers was hired by the City of Vancouver as aboriginal planner. In that capacity, she cowrote a framework for how Vancouver can live up to its commitment to become a City of Reconciliation. She was appointed the city’s first manager for aboriginal relations in March 2016.

      “I’m supporting reconciliation to be embedded within all aspects of the City of Vancouver,” she said about her job.

      According to her, staff members tell her that they that there has been a significant change in how city hall works because of the focus on reconciliation with aboriginal people.

      The city’s reconciliation framework seeks to form a relationship built on  mutal respect with the three local First Nations, namely the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh, and the urban aboriginal community.

      Achieving the goal of becoming a City of Reconciliation is a long-term process, and the framework that Gosnell-Myers cowrote has three components.

      One is cultural competency, which aims to create opportunities for the city and aboriginal communities to learn from each other.

      The second is strengthened relations, which involves recognition of the history and heritage of indigenous peoples.

      The third is effective decision-making that requires a transparent and flexible approach in working together.

      “We’ve come a long ways,” Gosnell-Myers said.

      Karen Joseph (centre) was a key organizer of the city's last Walk for Reconciliation, which attracted about 70,000 people in 2013 despite a torrential rainstorm.
      Yolande Cole

      As a City of Reconciliation, Vancouver is marking the 150th anniversary of Canada with a focus on honouring aboriginal peoples.

      The commemoration will acknowledge the presence of indigenous peoples before the formation of Canada, hence its distinctive ‘Canada 150+’ celebration.

      Canada 150+ will have three major events. One is The Drum is Calling Festival, running nine days from July 22 to July 30 at different venues. The second is a gathering of canoes on July 14. The third is a Walk for Reconciliation on September 24.

      Gosnell-Myers said that the 150th anniversary of Canada “represents 150 years of colonization, and for the most part, oppression against indigenous peoples and indigenous people’s rights”.

      “And a lot of that continues today,” Gosnell-Myers continued. “So when we thought about how we could meaningfully celebrate Canada 150, we knew we knew it had to focus on indigenous peoples on the land that…we are situated on.” 

      Next Wednesday (June 21) is National Aboriginal Day, which will be celebrated in Vancouver with a free festival at Trout Lake in John Hendry Park running from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Follow Carlito Pablo on Twitter @carlitopablo.