When Doug McCallum and his Safe Surrey Coalition team opposed a motion last month seeking recognition of the Indigenous territory upon which the Surrey City Hall is located, they were not only being insensitive toward the First Nations of Canada. They also let down many South Asians, like me, who believe in building bridges with the original stewards of the land.
The vote came after a councillor of South Asian ancestry, Jack Hundial, brought a motion forward on January 11 asking for territorial acknowledgement as part of the reconciliation and decolonizing efforts in light of cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples.
Another prominent South Asian voice, Anita Huberman of the Surrey Board of Trade, also wrote an open letter to McCallum to respect that.
We don’t need to be rocket scientists to understand why such acknowledgement is important.
After all, Indigenous peoples have been subjected to systemic racism for generations. Canada, as a nation state, has been built on their stolen lands. The minimum McCallum would have been to accept the motion with an open mind.
Although we are thankful to him and his team for recognizing the Sikh genocide that occurred in India in the first week of November 1984, following the assassination of then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, his decision to ignore the aspirations of Indigenous peoples of Canada has set a very bad example.
This reflects poorly on McCallum and speaks volumes about his doublespeak and hypocrisy on social justice. If you could be considerate for what happened to the Sikhs in India, why you lack empathy for Indigenous peoples in your own backyard by acknowledging that their territory was unceced prior to council meetings?
It is pertinent to mention that Sikh activists are respectful of the Indigenous communities and their rights. The Dashmesh Darbar Gurdwara that organizes Vaisakhi parade every year in Surrey also acknowledges the Indigenous land we are sitting on. So much so, they invite Indigenous peoples to their annual Sikh Genocide commemorative events.
How come the mayor cannot see this?
Since South Asians and Indigenous peoples in Canada share a history of resistance against colonialism and racism, we stand in support of the First Nations and call upon the mayor to rethink his decision.