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Indigenous Relations & Reconciliation

Creating a shared future

Acknowledging the Land

  • Recognize lək̓ʷəŋən names of particular regions or places within what is now called the City of Victoria
  • Acknowledge and consider lək̓ʷəŋən heritage at the same time the City of Victoria’s heritage is acknowledged and considered
  • Remediate the health of the Gorge waterway and Inner Harbour
  • Establish areas of Victoria that acknowledge the land as a living entity with rights and privileges
  • Establish programs that enable City Council and City staff to learn about historical lək̓ʷəŋən uses of and practices with local lands and water
  • Use or include lək̓ʷəŋən place names on site signage, and develop public acknowledgements of current and historical lək̓ʷəŋən leaders

Lək̓ʷəŋən Teachings

  • Ensure that the voices of lək̓ʷəŋən Elders, Knowledge Keepers and Youth are included in reconciliation recommendations
  • Ensure history; recognition of lands, stories, language; and presence is included in artistic lək̓ʷəŋən and architectural expressions of Victoria, and in city planning
  • Acknowledge the legitimacy of lək̓ʷəŋən oral history
  • Develop public acknowledgements of current and historical leaders amongst lək̓ʷəŋən people
  • Provide adequate funding (full funding or enough to enable matching funding) to the Nations to catalyze the longhouse build atop Migan/Beacon Hill
  • Urge the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority to work with the Nations to revisit an Indigenous village/historic visitor opportunity at Ogden Point

Lək̓ʷəŋən Language

  • Ensure that Council and City staff have access to local Indigenous language resources currently available and that the Mayor should be able to provide greetings in the lək̓ʷəŋən language
  • Establish a lək̓ʷəŋən language learning app so that public presenters, local and visiting, can properly pronounce “Lekwungen” and other local words necessary in territory acknowledgements

Indigenization and Decolonization

  • Establish a requirement that new Council and senior staff participate in a process, such as the Kairos Blanket exercise, to learn about the truth elements of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action
  • Ensure that local media has information about the work the City of Victoria is doing with lək̓ʷəŋən people and why
  • Revise these Charges as needed as the City travels its journeys of Reconciliation, in conversation with the City Family
  • Establish opportunities, focusing on lək̓ʷəŋən ways of doing and being, for Council members and staff to learn how to Indigenize their professional practices
  • Organize presentations and smaller dialogues between City Family members and Council members and senior city staff who are not part of the City Family
  • Establish Indigenous-focused anti-racism training for Council members and staff
  • Include information and training about the city’s commitment to Indigenous relationships in orientations or onboarding processes for new Council members and city staff

City Council Practices

  • Advocate to the province to allow municipal governments to engage with First Nations or other groups of Indigenous people in camera, i.e., in closed meetings
  • Ensure that lək̓ʷəŋən or other Indigenous peoples’ needs are not being used to advance agendas that have nothing or little to do with reconciliation
  • Encourage, at school district, provincial and federal levels, the establishment of a lək̓ʷəŋən -focused school or schools, and support lək̓ʷəŋən programs in public schools across Victoria.
  • Support lək̓ʷəŋən business and entrepreneurial initiatives
  • Meet with other governments, particularly local municipal governments, to share the story of Victoria’s relationship process with local Indigenous peoples
  • Set expectations for City Councillors’ actions, observance, and knowledge of lək̓ʷəŋən history, cultures and practices
  • Implement and resource the recommendations that arise from the Indigenous Relations Function research and investigation work
  • Make the Reconciliation Grant a permanent part of the city’s operational budget, indexed to inflation

Relationship or Leadership Agreements

  • Enshrine the City Family as an ongoing responsibility of Council
  • Ensure the continuation of Reconciliation Dialogues, beginning with one that focuses on lək̓ʷəŋən children and youth
  • Develop a Memorandum of Understanding, related to governance, relationship, and culture, with Songhees and Esquimalt Chiefs and Councils

In 2017 the City of Victoria began a formal process of reconciliation with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.  I have been privileged to be part of the initial, and all subsequent conversations, explorations and realizations in this evolving journey of building relationship. 

When the City first approached the Nations, it was in a very colonial way, asking them to sit on a “reconciliation task force.”  Through conversation we learned that a more Indigenous-focused approach would be the better – only – way to proceed if we were sincere in wanting to pursue truth and reconciliation.  In response, we formed a “City Family” – a gathering of members from the City, the Songhees and the Esquimalt Nations, as well as urban Indigenous peoples – and began a Witness Reconciliation Program.

In June 2017, City Council set this process in motion through approval of the Witness Reconciliation Program.  As part of this process, ideas and actions are created by the City Family with the Songhees and Esquimalt Chiefs and Councils as guides and witnesses.  Witnesses, in lək̓ʷəŋən tradition, listen to the story of the family and give their input and guidance to find a good way forward. 

Part of the conceptual framework endorsed by Council in June 2017 included the following language:

For the City to do more than talk about Reconciliation, we must be prepared to question convention, learn from Indigenous custom and tradition, and risk doing things differently than our usual routines and processes. Our comfortable reliance on terms of reference, timelines, workplans, benchmarks, checklists and other conventional assessments of success and progress will not add value or meaning to this work, move it forward, or demonstrate our readiness to face and embrace the challenges of Reconciliation. 

City Family gatherings involve sharing and witnessing of participants’ stories – a powerful means of gaining understanding and appreciation for each other’s experience and worldview that is necessary for true relationship building. In accordance with lək̓ʷəŋən traditions, the City Family gathers over a shared meal to talk about issues of the day, challenges that need attention, and the paths to solutions that can overcome those challenges.

From those conversations, shared storytelling and learning, the City and the Nations have forged a strong bond of relationships, extending Council to Council, staff to staff, individual to individual. These intentional relationships have changed the face of the city, added new ways – and new values – to our work.

As bonds amongst City Family members strengthened and trust was established, lək̓ʷəŋən members opened up and began to more deeply share their traditional knowledge about how to conduct true and honest relationships.  The City learned more about local Nations’ histories and ways of working together, and how to engage in ceremony and appropriately support public discussion about reconciliation.  After a sharing and recognition of the strife caused by oppressive symbols, statues have been removed, street signs changed to reflect Indigenous language and history, artwork enabled on public spaces, occasions marked with celebration and reflection, agreements acknowledged and celebrated.

As the Witness Reconciliation program – and the City Family – has grown, so has the city’s embrace of its responsibility for its own awareness and action.

Thus began the city’s Reconciliation Dialogues.  Four such Dialogues occurred in 2019 and 2020, before being interrupted by a pandemic, and three more have taken place in 2022.  Those seven Dialogues offered public access to different topics and learnings, exposing hundreds of members of the public to lək̓ʷəŋən teaching of the land, language, laws, culture and history.  The Dialogues’ processes are structed on lək̓ʷəŋən ways of sharing and celebrating knowledge.  Subjects were:

  • Lekwungen Knowledge and Land, which included lək̓ʷəŋən Elders and other knowledge keepers sharing knowledge about local lands and history
  • The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the City, History and Culture, which included a review of Victoria’s obligations to the lək̓ʷəŋən people in light of Canada being a signatory to UNDRIP
  • Newcomers to Canada and Reconciliation, which considered the similarities and differences between Indigenous people and recent immigrants.  The session includes an in-depth conversation between a Vancouver Island Indigenous man and a recent refugee from a war-torn country. 
  • Sir John A. MacDonald in Conversation, which, through theatrical and artistic expression, and comments from Cindy Blackstock a Gitxan scholar, leader and activist for the rights of Indigenous children, considered multiple viewpoints of Canada’s first Prime Minister and the impact he has had on generations of Indigenous people.
  • Guests of Lekwungen: Urban Indigenous Experiences in Canada which, through words, song and dance, explored the experiences of Indigenous people whose homelands are elsewhere in Canada but for various reasons now live in Victoria.
  • Rethinking Heritage in the Context of Reconciliation, which included conversation between the Mayor and members of the Songhees Nation Council about how to acknowledge Indigenous historical and traditional engagement with local lands while also acknowledging Victoria’s pride in its heritage. 
  • Nétsamaát: Going Forward Together, at which members of the City Family and special guests presented calls to actions for the City and the community to carry on the work of reconciliation for decades to come, and asked participants to make a reconciliation commitment of their own

The completion of this series of Reconciliation Dialogues does not mean the City’s Reconciliation work is ended.  The 32 Calls to Action listed above are the beginning of another journey, advised by the work of the city Family and many other community leaders. 

In addition to these Calls to Action, the City will imagine how to embed an Indigenous Relations Function within the systems and structure of the corporation without diluting or diminishing the work that has gone before, or the accomplishments and relationships that have brought the City to this place in our relationship with the Nations and the urban Indigenous folk within our current boundaries. 

Some preliminary suggestions for what this “function” are:

  • A Council of Indigenous leadership from Esquimalt and Songhees Nations
  • A circle of Elders and other advisors designated by the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations
  • A ‘Declaration Act’ type of action statement and commitment or agreement – a type of memorandum of understanding’ between the City and the Nations
  • A multi-party governance structure with specific functions or oversight tasks and/or responsibilities

Each of these components would complement the Calls to Action and the ongoing staff education, relationship formation and nurturing, individual relationship building, program collaboration between the Nations and the city, etc.  All of these components rely upon the willingness of all participants to remain open, vulnerable, exposed – and thus themselves embody the mechanics of the City’s reconciliation progress.

There is still much to do to consider the truths of our shared history, to move towards reconciliation, and eventually move to a place of greater shared – and informed – relationship.  Ultimately, our work together will benefit all members of our community, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, as we build deeper understanding and learn to live well together on these lands.  I am committed to continuing this work as your mayor.

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