Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell says his role as a member of the new Surrey Police Service board of directors offers an opportunity to help policing in the community ‘move forward’ in terms of its interactions with the city’s First Nations people. (City of White Rock)

SFN chief considers it an honour to serve on Surrey Police Board

'We can't change the past, but we can learn from it,' says Harley Chappell

Semiahmoo First Nations Chief Harley Chappell (Xwopokton) says he sees serving on the board of the Surrey Police Service as a chance to help policing in the community move forward – and to avoid making similar mistakes to those made in the past.

In a statement to fellow members at the board’s June 22 online meeting, Chappell discussed his feelings in light of the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in May.

“It verified a lot of the stories our elders told us that we hoped weren’t true,” he said.

Chappell said it is important to understand what caused the atrocities of the residential school system – in which, from the late 1800s to the 1960s, Indigenous children were forcibly separated from their families and subjected to efforts to assimilate them that were frequently brutal, and sometimes fatal.

“We can’t do anything to change the past, but we can learn from it and grow from it,” he said.

Part of that understanding, he said, is recognizing the “federal policing role and responsibilities” in enforcing that system.

“That’s why I’m here,” he told the board.

“I’m here to build a more respectful, more understanding, trauma-informed (police force).”

Chappell said he understands that the process will inevitably involve a learning curve for board members.

“We’re not going to be perfect – we’re going to make mistakes,” he said. “That’s OK. Hopefully we can do the healing and understanding and compassion as we move forward.”

Making SPS more responsive to the community it serves will also help with the broader process of reconciliation, Chappell said.

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“I hope that brings some real growth to us, as Canadian citizens, as neighbours, as friends.”

Chappell added that he considers it “an honour” to be on the police board.

“We’re really forging new goals to building a better life for our children,” he said.

Chappell noted his comments came the day after National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada.

“It was hard to celebrate – it was a sombre time for First Nations,” he said. “Every single First Nations person is one to three generations away from the impact of residential schools.”

Chappell added that his own personal experience of the effects of the residential school system came through his grandfather, who was forced to attend the Kamloops school as a child.

“He never spoke of it,” he said.

“But he brought a lot of the dysfunction back, into our family.”

At the beginning of the meeting, board chair Mayor Doug McCallum read an acknowledgement that “our work takes place on the ancestral, traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish people.”

In January, McCallum and his Safe Surrey Coalition on council shot down a motion from Coun. Jack Hundial that a similar acknowledgement be read at the start of each Surrey council meeting.

The city, which is located on the traditional territory of the Semiahmoo and Katzie First Nations, is home to around 13,500 Indigenous people, who make up roughly 2.6 per cent of the city’s total population, Joanne Mills, executive director of the Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre Association, told the SPS board during a meeting last October.

“Surrey has the fastest growing Indigenous population in B.C. and will surpass Vancouver by 2021 if growth trends continue. The majority of people identify as First Nations people, 56 per cent, followed by Metis at 40 per cent and Inuit, four per cent,” Mills said, noting that about half of Surrey’s Indigenous population is under age 27.

– files from Tom Zytaruk

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