Recognition of unceded aboriginal territories would be helpful

Dr. David Schaepe was commenting on the move by City of Vancouver to proclaim 2014 as a Year of Reconciliation

Formal recognition by B.C. cities that they are founded on unceded aboriginal territories would go a long way toward reconciliation with First Nations

Formal recognition by B.C. cities that they are founded on unceded aboriginal territories would go a long way toward lasting reconciliation with First Nations, said Dr. David Schaepe.

Recognition of this kind by city officials would boost the “fairness” in the relationship, he said.

Schaepe was commenting on the move by City of Vancouver to proclaim 2014 as a Year of Reconciliation, acknowledging lasting impacts of the residential school system. The goal was to “heal from the past, and build new relationships between aboriginal peoples and all Vancouverites, built on a foundation of openness, dignity, understanding and hope.”

City of Vancouver’s decision to formally recognize that it was founded on unceded territories of three First Nations might just encourage other local governments to do the same, Schaepe said.

Although everyone is in the midst of an election campaign right now for local government, he emphasized that his interest in these issues is not political, per se.

“This might however be an ideal discussion topic to be raised during the current election campaign,” said Schaepe.

Maybe during candidates’ meetings that often get scheduled during election campaigns.

“I say this as someone with a background in aboriginal rights and land claims issues. Not as a politician, but as an academic and someone who has worked in the Sto:lo community for two decades.

Schaepe is director of the Sto:lo Research and Resource Management Centre, and senior archeologist for Sto:lo Nation. He’s also an adjunct professor at SFU’s School of Resource and Environmental Management, and an instructor of Land Claims at UFV.

Any opportunity to raise the profile of that relationship with reconciliation at the local level would be a good thing, he said, and what Vancouver did earlier this summer was “an example” some cities may want to follow.

Schaepe spent years researching issues of aboriginal rights and title, heritage management, repatriation, land-use, and archaeological research. His PhD is in Anthropology from UBC in 2009.

The kind of recognition they’re talking about could go a long way toward a better understanding and awareness of Sto:lo history, he suggested, which could lead to a greater level respect. They’re already working on making improvements and filling in gaps at the educational level as well.

Schaepe can imagine a day when the Cities of Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Mission, and Langley, as well as local government in Harrison and Hope for example, formally acknowledge and recognize that they are on Sto:lo territory, and that these territories were never ceded through treaty, war or surrender.

More effort is needed to look carefully at local land-use planning and regional growth strategies impact local First Nations and “to better understand how the Sto:lo fit into the landscape,” said Schaepe.

“It’s about looking beyond the boundaries of the reservations to understand the traditional land use on unceded lands, and the close connection that First Nations have with those lands.”

“It would be simple recognition of historical fact,” he said.

For example, Sto:lo reps could work in tandem with municipal officials to create “protocols” to use in conducting city business respecting Sto:lo traditions of welcome, blessing, and acknowledgement of the territory.

“The current situation is not fair and it’s not healthy,” he said.

Jurisdictional limitations are put forth sometimes when discussing these issues.

“It may be time to move to a view of community, rather than jurisdiction, in terms of the relationship,” he said. “It’s about making progress toward greater collaboration, along with a whole and healthy view of community.”

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