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Municipal Politics

Vancouver Is Failing on ‘City of Reconciliation’ Claim, Says Its Indigenous Committee

School board, council and other institutions aren’t taking needed actions on racism, warns official advisory group.

Katie Hyslop 10 Jul 2020 |

Katie Hyslop is a reporter for The Tyee. Reach her here.

Vancouver is getting failing grades from its own Indigenous advisory committee six years after it pledged to become the “City of Reconciliation.”

And the current council has failed to act in a meaningful way in its first 20 months, said Penny Kerrigan, a member of the Urban Indigenous Peoples’ Advisory Committee.

“It’s been really frustrating, and more frustrating than ever before with this current council,” said Kerrigan, adding she considered quitting the committee last fall because it felt “tokenistic.”

The advisory board criticized the mayor and council, park board, school board and the Vancouver Police Department for their lack of action on racism in a release this week.

They called for the city to renew its efforts toward reconciliation with Indigenous people.

Kerrigan said the mayor and council have not made much progress toward meeting the goals of their own City of Reconciliation framework, which launched in 2014.

The goals were to strengthen relations between the city and Indigenous people; design city services with urban Indigenous and local First Nations input; and promote Indigenous culture, awareness, art and understanding.

The committee expected the city to include them in efforts to meet these goals but have not been consulted, Kerrigan said.

Kerrigan said Mayor Kennedy Stewart and council took a year to restart the advisory board after the 2018 election.

“With the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls we had made a motion to this current council last year to recommend they review the calls to action, pull those calls to action that the city had responsibilities for, and to give us an update last September,” she said.

“And that did not happen. We still have not been given anything from the City of Vancouver on the recommendations for the national inquiry. That’s just one large example of what they haven’t done.”

The committee is calling on the city to create an Indigenous relations department to house all Indigenous initiatives and to hire and support more Indigenous employees.

The committee criticized the Vancouver School Board for not consulting Black and Indigenous communities before they voted to keep police in schools while the school liaison officer program is under review.

Advisory committee member Michelle Cyca noted there was no scope, timeline or budget for the review, approved at the school board’s June 22 meeting.

That’s an issue, she says.

“A lot of the consultations and discussions at the city just seem like they can go on forever,” she said. “A lot of Indigenous parents have said that their kids don’t feel safe in schools with school liaison officers.”

The decision to review the program followed protests over police interactions with Black, Indigenous and racialized people, including the deaths of Chantel Moore, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Rodney Levi, Ejaz Choudry and D’Andre Campbell during police wellness checks.

The Indigenous advisory board’s statement cited several racist incidents in Vancouver this year, including the arrest of an Indigenous grandfather and granddaughter who were trying to open a bank account.

The committee calls for more action from every sector of the city. For the school board, the actions are:

The Vancouver School Board does not meet again until Sept. 28. Cyca says the advisory committee’s formal meetings happen once every two months, but they have “working sessions” over the summer.

“Often the working sessions are where we are able to advance work that we can vote on as a committee when we have a regular session.”

The Tyee contacted both the Vancouver School Board and board chair Janet Fraser for comment.

Fraser, who is the school board liaison to the Indigenous advisory committee, responded by email. While she did not mention the September deadline for the school liaison officer review, Fraser repeated the district’s anti-racist commitment, outlined actions the board has taken and referenced her statement about systemic racism at the last school board meeting.

“Also at that meeting, the board passed a motion to engage with Musqueam (xʷməθkʷəy̓əm), Squamish (Sḵwx̱ wu7mesh Uxwumixw) and Tsleil-Waututh (səl̓ ilw̓ ətaʔɬ) Nations in the development of the [Vancouver School Board’s] Land and Asset Strategy plan,” she wrote.

The motion to review the school liaison officer program “calls for broad engagement with students, communities of colour and equity-seeking groups as well as parents, staff, district partners and the police forces,” Fraser added.

In an email to The Tyee, a city spokesperson praised the time and energy the advisory committee spent holding it accountable.

City staff are researching the issues raised by the committee "to continue dialogue with the committee on current status of city work, the overall state of anti-racism and reconciliation focus at the city, and next steps to begin meaningfully addressing these critical concerns,” the statement said. Staff are also asking the committee for ideas on improving the city/committee working relationship, it added.

The statement said the city is working on an internal "Equity Framework" that will likely change hiring and training practices and improve anti-Indigenous racism and decolonization training.

City staff are also considering a colonial audit of the municipality, the statement said.

"We acknowledge that deeper work is required to root out the systemic and persistent causes of racism in Vancouver."

The statement went on to list a dozen Indigenous housing, health care, healing and wellness projects the city has recently supported.*

Cyca noted the committee is not trying to single out individual people, but the system as a whole.

“A lot of the issues that we’re pointing out here feel more structural — the giant bureaucracy of how the city works,” she said. “It feels like there’s a lot of fragmentation in terms of what we can do as a committee, how we can connect to other advisory committees.”

*The article was updated at 4:50 p.m., July 11, to add information received from the City of Vancouver after initial publication.  [Tyee]

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