A ceremony was held at the Sumas First Nation longhouse to sign the Semá:th Declaration in September 2017. (Abbotsford News file photo)

A ceremony was held at the Sumas First Nation longhouse to sign the Semá:th Declaration in September 2017. (Abbotsford News file photo)

Abbotsford council votes down motion related to truth and reconciliation

Majority say senior-government consultations with First Nations should be completed first

A motion by Abbotsford Coun. Dave Loewen that city staff provide a report to council on how to address recommendations on truth and reconciliation was rejected on Monday (July 12).

But those voting against the motion said it was premature and should be considered after the province completes its consultations on an action plan to implement the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The province is accepting First Nations feedback until July 31 on the draft action plan.

The matter arose at Monday’s council meeting, when Loewen moved that council direct staff to provide a report to council before Nov. 30.

The motion stated that the report would outline “initiatives completed or in progress” by the city in relation to the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s five recommendations for municipal action, laid out in 2015, as part of 94 “calls to action.”

ALSO READ: Bill to implement UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples clears Senate

It also stated that the report should include “options for council’s consideration” on how to address those recommendations.

“This motion is intended to be neither prescriptive nor to constrain staff in this matter, but rather to give them free rein to reflect and brainstorm, to identify how we might already be working towards reconciliation, how we might increase our awareness of past injustices, how we might acknowledge harm that has been inflicted, how we might atone for causes, and how any negative behaviours might be changed,” Loewen said.

He said a formal process would convey “a more serious intent” on the matter than has previously been done in Abbotsford.

Mayor Henry Braun said a more appropriate time to consider the motion would be after the city hears from the Sumas and Matsqui First Nations and after the province finishes its consultations.

“To proceed without knowing what the legal framework and the implications for local governments in B.C. will be from this action plan may be premature,” he said.

Braun referenced the Semá:th (Sumas) Declaration of September 2017, which, in part, states that the First Nation would define its own path forward, “not allowing someone else to dictate to us, which has been the trend since decolonization began.”

“My concern is that if we move in this direction (of the motion), we are doing exactly what they don’t want us to be doing,” Braun said.

RELATED: Sumas First Nation signs declaration in Abbotsford

Coun. Kelly Chahal agreed, saying she appreciated the intent of the motion, but that not enough consultation has been done with local Indigenous communities.

“As someone who comes from an ethnic community … I often feel the intent is good for inclusion of understanding but at times the messages get mixed, or the value isn’t there,” she said. “It can be perceived as lip service or tokenism, especially when you’re not consulted.”

Couns. Ross Siemens, Sandy Blue, Les Barkman and Brenda Falk also voted against the motion, saying the timing isn’t right.

Patricia Ross was the only councillor who voted with Loewen in favour of the motion.

“I am supporting this motion because I think it’s never too soon to start this conversation. It could be a very long time before the provincial or federal governments move on certain things. There’s nothing stopping us from trying to start the conversation and find out what we can do better,” she said.

Loewen said he had worded the motion so that it was “open-ended” and could be used as a starting point.

He said other municipal governments have begun the process on the five recommendations, and he had hoped that Abbotsford would do the same.

“I’m afraid that waiting is one of our worst habits … Even a small step is better than no step,” he said.


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