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Vancouver council marks historic day, approves UNDRIP strategy with First Nations

Musqueam councillor: ‘It’s a great step towards reconciliation’
Councillor Dennis Thomas of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation at Vancouver city hall Tuesday.

Vancouver city council approved Tuesday a historical document involving three First Nations that sets out a framework for the municipal government to right historical wrongs and recognize rights and title of Indigenous peoples.

The city’s UNDRIP strategy, which was developed with the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations, is the first of its kind in Canada and recommends a wide-ranging set of actions that include returning lands to the nations and revenue-sharing agreements.

“It’s a great step towards reconciliation,” said Allyson Fraser, an elected Musqueam councillor, after witnessing council’s vote at city hall. “We’re moving forward as we move together as a group, as a family. We're going to make a positive change.”

UNDRIP is the acronym for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007. The provincial and federal governments have since passed legislation to implement UNDRIP.

'Take this as a model'

Fraser is a steering committee member of the UNDRIP task force, which also includes councillor Dennis Thomas of the Tsleil-Waututh, who was equally pleased with council’s decision. He hoped the document would influence other municipalities to develop similar agreements.

“Hopefully, other municipalities in this province, in this country and around the world will take this as a model — take this as of how they can work with the Indigenous rights holders of where they operate,” said Thomas, whose Indigenous name is Whonoak.

Last Wednesday, the three nations and municipal government participated in a ceremony at the Museum of Vancouver to celebrate the achievement. The vote at council Tuesday was expected to be a formality, but did get pushback from Coun. Colleen Hardwick.

Hardwick, who lost her bid for mayor Oct. 15, said she supports reconciliation “in principle” and thanked the task force for its work. But she said the document was produced by “a highly selected group,” drafted internally and without public discussion.

“Because the process was closed, I'm concerned the output suffers,” she said. “It recommends layers of special treatment without transparency.”

Added Hardwick: “Explicit discrimination on the basis of race, which this report demands, is always and everywhere wrong. As we've been reminded by Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, it ends up badly for everyone.”

Asked about Hardwick's comments, Thomas said: “Where my spirit is, and where my heart and my mind is right now, is just the vote and the passing of the UNDRIP task force [strategy] and just really knowing that our ancestors upstairs are smiling right now.”

Mayor Kennedy Stewart's last meeting

Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who was attending his last council meeting before Ken Sim takes his place Nov. 7, pointed out in his closing remarks that the city government only exists as a creation of the Crown.

“But that's not the case with the three host nations in these territories,” Stewart said.

“I feel in some ways fraudulent standing on this raised podium, speaking to nations on the other side of the glass [in the chamber]. In my mind, it’s the other way around — it’s that you are inviting us to work within our limited authority, as delegated by the Crown as to how these lands should be governed.”

Added Stewart: “And I think that's something that's not always understood. That is something that should be a core part of future work — to let residents and citizens know exactly what the relationship is.”

A budget to implement the strategy has not been determined, as council heard from city manager Paul Mochrie. Historically, budget deliberations at city hall occur in December.

Highlights of the UNDRIP strategy and a detailed report on the Oct. 19 ceremony — including photographs of the event — can be viewed here.

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