Longtime Musqueam councillor Howard Grant says when it comes to the relationship between his First Nation and the City of Vancouver things have come a “long, long, long, long way.”
“Back in the early ’50s the mayor and council of Vancouver came to my community and wanted to use our land as the Vancouver city garbage dump site,” he said.
Now he’s welcoming a motion from Coun. Christine Boyle that would see Vancouver implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
If successful, the motion would bring together leadership from Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh — the three First Nations territories where Vancouver now exists — to set a table with city representatives with the goal of developing an action plan on implementing the declaration.
“I applaud the City of Vancouver to say we are going to do something about it.”
Grant said he sees the city as a place where tangible change can happen through the declaration.
Implementation “needs to start on the ground. It needs to start in your family, and we consider Vancouver and its residents are parts of our family,” he said.
“Because if we want Vancouver to be great and if we want it to be something that is a legacy that’s left for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, then we need to understand that we as a family need to work together.”
In late 2019, British Columbia unanimously passed legislation that commits the province to aligning its legislation with the declaration. The federal government is also, once again, looking to pass a bill to implement UNDRIP.
Boyle said her motion came from a conversation with Squamish Nation elected councillor Khelsilem as she was thinking about “what it looks like to keep moving reconciliation and Indigenous rights work forward at the city.”
Implementing the declaration is among the 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which called for that to happen at the federal, provincial/territorial and municipal levels.
The declaration, adopted at the United Nations general assembly in 2007, establishes a framework of minimum standards for “the survival, dignity and well-being” of Indigenous Peoples around the world.
Khelsilem said it’s “really important to understand it as a human rights tool.”
“So in the same way that human rights were established to prevent the world from committing some of the worst atrocities that we’ve seen throughout human history, [UNDRIP] is intended to really prevent the worst atrocities that have happened to Indigenous Peoples from ever happening again and really to undo the harm.”
A chance for Vancouver to ‘set the bar’
If the motion passes, Tsleil-Waututh Chief Leah George-Wilson said it will be a chance for the city to “set the bar” for other municipalities in the region.
“There’s so many ways that UNDRIP can be used and taken,” she said.
The purpose of the motion would be to have the three First Nations and city representatives figure out collectively what implementation of UNDRIP might look like in the city. The work would also take into account the urban Indigenous communities in the city.
“I don’t want to presuppose what those top priorities would be but of course local government exists on land — land and land use are some of the key issues we deal with,” Boyle said.
The motion is scheduled for tabling at the upcoming city council meeting on March 9. Boyle said it could be voted on as early as next week.