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LETTER: Oak Bay needs to listen to Songhees Chief Ron Sam

Letter writer Keith Brown (Aug. 20) suggests that Chief Ron Sam of the Songhees Nation is being unfair to Oak Bay council when he says that his Nation wasn’t given respect as a government in Oak Bay’s process to determine the future of the marina/Spewhung (Turkey Head) lands, waters and buildings over the last two years and that the process itself was “obnoxious.”

We need to listen to Chief Sam.

Chief Sam’s complaint (Oak Bay News Aug. 11) is that since 2019, when this water and land lease process was first under consideration, Oak Bay council did not consult with either the Songhees or Esquimalt Nations about their interests in the future development and use of Spewhung, nor the details of the Songhees’ submitted plan. He is rightly concerned as quoted in the Aug. 11 Oak Bay News that “ … you can’t have reconciliation without true economic reconciliation.”

Oak Bay has obligations to consult that it has failed to meet. These originate with the federal Constitution (Section 35), the B.C. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, and the motion council itself passed this year to adopt and implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, consistent with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action #43. Given that these also enshrine First Nations’ rights to land and prosperity sharing, as well as transparent and predictable decision-making processes, Chief Sam’s frustration with Oak Bay is completely understandable.

It is no longer legally or morally acceptable to shrug off opportunities for partnerships and shared prosperity with First Nations. Successful prosperity-sharing initiatives between Nations and local governments and communities elsewhere on Vancouver Island and B.C. demonstrate what a huge missed opportunity this has been in Oak Bay.

Oak Bay can and must do better. That needs to start with a respectful and meaningful conversation with the Nations. We should appreciate Chief Sam’s truth-telling and respond to his offer to start over. It could be the beginning of authentic, substantive reconciliation in our community.

Coun. Tara Ney

Oak Bay