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B.C.’s First Nations to receive formal apology as part of Reconciliation

Legislative Assembly Speaker Raj Chouhan to deliver apology as part of Reconciliation Action Plan
Speaker Raj Chouhan will deliver an official apology on behalf of B.C.’s Legislative Assembly to First Nations across British Columbia among other measures as part of an Reconciliation Action Plan tabled Wednesday. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Speaker Raj Chouhan will deliver an official apology on behalf of B.C.’s Legislative Assembly to First Nations across British Columbia among other measures as part of an Reconciliation Action Plan.

But Wednesday’s official ceremony marking the release of the plan also included criticisms about the tone of Reconciliation, while political opposition questioned the process.

Speaking at ceremony in the legislature, Chouhan told First Nations leaders from across the province that Reconciliation with First Nations is an essential part of the work to make the legislature more reflective of B.C.’s population.

The plan tabled Wednesday afternoon “recognizes the need to address historical injustices by acknowledging the past and working to build new relationships with Indigenous Peoples based on respect and understanding” in building on work that Chouhan and the assembly’s clerk Ryan-Lloyd started four years ago in consultation with First Nations.

The plan includes seven initial actions. They include: the official apology; a Memorial Garden recognizing Indian Residential School survivors and victims; incorporating Indigenous customs and cultures; and implementing consistent practices for Indigenous participation in ceremonies and proceedings.

“But that journey is not over,” Chouhan said. “We are just starting. We can only complete that journey if we commit ourselves and we continue to hold our hands together and paddle together.”

Cheryl Casimer of the First Nations Leadership Council was among several senior First Nations leader speaking during the ceremony.

Like other speakers, she referenced historical injustices, which First Nations have suffered since the arrival of Europeans, noting the legislature’s responsibility in creating “racist, colonial laws that tried to destroy us.”

She also noted that the legislature, like all buildings in B.C. is built on the “unceded territory of First Nations.”

Casimer praised the plan, but also questioned the tone of Reconciliation.

“Reconciliation is not about making each other feel good,” she said. “That comes later. That comes after the hard work and the heavy lifting is done. Reconciliation is about having those tough conversations, talking about the truth, no matter how hard it is to hear, because it is necessary in order for us to repair and build stronger relationships as we forward.”

She tried to underscore the point when she rhetorically asked non-First Nations members of the audience “by show of hands” how many of them would be happy to be treated in the way general society is treating First Nations.

“For those of you who can’t see, no hands have gone up,” she said.

Chouhan later tabled the plan, with B.C. New Democrats, B.C. Greens and B.C. Conservatives voting in favour and B.C. United voting against.

B.C. United Leader Kevin Falcon questioned the process of government bringing forward the plan out of the legislature’s assembly management committee with days left in the legislative session.

“I can tell you this is not advancing Reconciliation,” he said. “In fact, that risks setting it back.”

Falcon said government cannot be working on Reconciliation in isolation.

“We have to remember this is the Peoples’ House,” he said. “That’s all the peoples of British Columbia, Indigenous, non-Indigenous and we need to make sure that when we talk about Reconciliation, we are bringing the public along with us. It’s can’t just be quiet Reconciliation that is made quietly with four chiefs. What about the other 200 chiefs out there, who weren’t consulted on this Reconciliation plan?”

With that last comment, Falcon was referring to the Speaker’s Indigenous Reconciliation Advisory Committee. Its four members met regularly with Chouhan.

Falcon said the plan reflects government’s “pattern” of “very limited, secretive consultations” that fail to include the broader community, thereby creating distrust.

House Leader Ravi Kahlon questioned B.C. United’s opposition.

“It’s shameful,” he said. “We spent one year engaging on this topic,” he said. “We have had multiple meetings in multiple committees. Everybody was supporting it until the last minute yesterday.”

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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