The Town of Ladysmith and the Stz’uminus First Nation cohosted Aboriginal Day celebrations at Ladysmith’s Transfer Beach park last June — an example of how ties have tightened between local governments in the two communities. Mike Gregory/Ladysmith Chronicle

‘I would like to acknowledge we are on the territory of First Nations’

Reconciliation, tradition behind practice now becoming common across Vancouver Island

You’ve probably seen it if you’ve taken the time to attend an official community function on Vancouver Island in recent years.

Mayor so-and-so at a podium — clutching a staff report, scissors, shovel or oversize cheque — saying “I would like to acknowledge we are on the traditional territory of (insert local First Nation here)” before proceeding with whatever is the matter at hand.

First Nations roots run deep across Vancouver Island and acknowledging the territories of the first people is a practice most — but not all — Vancouver Island city councils do before city meetings and other official events.

But have you ever wondered why?

According to the chair of the First Nations Studies Department at Vancouver Island University, it’s simply good manners on two different fronts.

Acknowledging territory is part of a longstanding protocol on Vancouver Island. It is a formal historic practice that has continued among Indigenous communities for hundreds of year.

And it also makes formal acknowledgement of the need for reconciliation. It is a statement that recognizes the traditional territory of the Indigenous people who called the land home before the arrival of settlers.

“Recognizing the land and the communities informs people of the colonial history of our region, specifically, that treaty processes/land surrenders have not yet taken place,” said Laurie Meijer Drees. “The land is what hosts us all, it is a precious resource that holds all our lives. Acknowledging where we are is good for our souls and it keeps us humble and grateful.”

Meijer Drees added that acknowledging the land or territory in formal government meetings is a sign of understanding Canadian society to be made up of multiple nations and settler communities.

“It is thus good diplomacy to acknowledge nation-to-nation conversations,” she said.

The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District sits within the traditional territories of 10 First Nations, and acknowledges the territories in which it holds its meetings—on Hupacasath and Tseshaht territories.

“It’s always the case that a regional district meeting, no matter where you are in B.C., takes place on traditional territory of one or more First Nations, and so doing that acknowledges the historic relationship that Canada and its predecessors had with First Nations,” said ACRD board chair John Jack.

Jack, who was the first Indigenous person representing a First Nation to be elected as board chair of a regional district in B.C., said there’s a difference between acknowledging “traditional territories” and “unceded territories.”

“If you say traditional territory…you’re on lands that are subject to a treaty,” Jack said. “If there’s no treaty there, you’re better off saying unceded territory or just territory.”

“It really pays for any organization, especially governmental ones, to acknowledge that, because it’s best practice to assume that a First Nation has a right.”

Qualicum Beach is one of a handful of Island communities that does not acknowledge First Nations before government meetings. Town councillor Barry Avis wants to change that.

Related: Qualicum Beach councillor wants First Nations to be recognized

“I introduced a motion of notice in late November to recognize the First Nation territory,” Avis said. “We have good relations here in Qualicum Beach with our (First Nations) bands and Mike Recalma is our chief and he’s always very supportive of our town and involved with most of the things we do.”

He’s still waiting for a response

“I’ve asked a couple times when it’s going to come out of being deferred but our mayor has passed it on to our top staff person to work with the First Nations to see what we can do,” Avis said. “The First Nations chief has said he would like us to do it. We haven’t come to a vote yet because at our meeting after I made the notice of motion, our mayor just deferred it. That means until it comes back out it stays in that position. It’s kind of frustrating for me but that’s the status.”

Avis said that during Vancouver Island Regional Library board meetings, that he chairs, and museum board meetings, they acknowledge First Nations territories before beginning. He said it is important

“I think it’s important to me because of the territories that we’re on and the relationship with our First Nations,” he said.

Courtenay is another Island city currently not making the acknowledgement. Rebecca Lennox Courtenay city councillor, recently put in a resolution to acknowledge First Nation territories at their city meetings. Historically, Courtenay has not done an acknowledgement.

“It will be on our March 19 agenda to start that practice,” she said. “I assume that it will pass.”

Lennox, who was elected in 2014, said she was inspired to propose a motion after the Comox Valley Regional District recently began acknowledging First Nations territories at their meetings and from a growing relationship with the K’ómoks Fist Nation.

“[Courtenay city council] just recently had the good fortune of going to K’ómoks for a half day and working with the K’ómoks chief and council to learn more about their history and just how we can work together more,” Lennox said.

She said bringing forward the motion is a bit overdue, but “better late than never.”

“There seems to be a lot more hope for the future as a team than there used to be,” she said.

A partial list of Island city councils that acknowledge First Nations territories before council meetings:

Ucluelet

Tofino

Port Alberni

Parksville

Ladysmith

Nanaimo

North Cowichan

Colwood

Victoria

Esquimalt

Oak Bay

Saanich

Just Posted

Risk of thunderstorm this afternoon for Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland

A special weather statement calls for heavy rain and wind over the next 48 hours

City of Port Alberni issues water quality alert for Kitsuksis Creek area

Kitsuksis Creek residents urged to use alternate drinking water source

$23M downtown Nanaimo hotel project moving forward

PEG Development submitted an updated permit application for a proposed hotel at 100 Gordon St.

Province now allowing tent city campers to stay at Goldstream Park

Contrary to earlier reports, Ministry of Environment says there is no hard deadline for campers to leave, park open to public

First Nation entrepreneur ready to launch new fish farm vessel

Walkus will launch Geemia Joye, sister ship to Amarissa Joye, totaling to $11 million.

Fashion Fridays: Rock some animal print

Kim XO, lets you in on the latest fall fashion trends on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Legal society poster seeks complainants against two cops on Downtown Eastside

Pivot Legal Society became aware of allegations made against the officers after a video circulated

Jury to deliberate in case of Calgary man accused of murdering woman

Curtis Healy could be convicted of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter

House arrest for man who abused disabled B.C. woman, then blamed her

‘Groomed complainant’ and ‘violated position of trust,’ judge says

Liberals want to know what Canadians think of legalized weed

The federal government will comb social media for Canadians’ pot-related behaviour

Ex-Trump lawyer Cohen boasts of aiding Mueller investigation

Cohen could provide information on whether Trump’s campaign co-ordinated with Russians

Landslide forces evacuations of Philippine villages

More than 1,200 people in villages near the landslide-hit area were forcibly moved by authorities

Students asked about the positive effects of residential schools

Alberta’s education minister apologized after hearing about the online social studies course

Permit to give B.C. deer birth control on hold until consultation with First Nations

Complexity of consultation will depend on level of First Nations support for the project

Most Read