British Columbia

Musqueam calls for land acknowledgements in Richmond; mayor says lawsuits in the way

A handful of major B.C. cities, including Richmond, have yet to make formalized commitments to territorial acknowledgements — despite the gestures becoming a growing symbol of reconciliation.

Indigenous advocates push for more steps toward reconciliation within municipality

Howard Grant, pictured in front of the Musqueam band office on Monday, wants the Musqueam people and Richmond to forge a better relationship. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Howard Grant has a family history that extends well beyond the lifespan of municipalities in B.C.'s Lower Mainland.

His great, great, great grandfather is among the Musqueam people that met Captain George Vancouver during his expedition to the Pacific Northwest in 1792.

"They met them off the point [of what's known today] as Point Grey," he told CBC News while standing in front of a Musqueam House Post that bears his family name.

The Musqueam are among the Coast Salish peoples who have lived in the region for thousands of years. Many municipalities, including Vancouver and New Westminster, acknowledge their history on the land before formal events including council meetings.

But a handful of major B.C. cities, including Richmond and Surrey, have yet to make formalized commitments to territorial acknowledgements — despite the gestures becoming a growing symbol of reconciliation. 

In Richmond's case, the municipality says ongoing lawsuits prevent it from doing so.

On Monday, Grant, alongside Richmond lawyer and Nisga'a Nation member Chaslynn Gillanders, made a presentation to the municipality, urging it to improve its relationship with the Musqueam nation.

Among the concerns raised were the need for land acknowledgement and a firm commitment to Truth and Reconciliation Commission mandates, including the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Richmond City Council referred staff to consider ways the municipality can further its relationship with the Musqueam.

"We have an opportunity to write a new chapter or indeed a new book," said Grant at Monday's meeting. "I ask we look at how we can create a more joint relationship."

Grant suggested semi-annual meetings between the municipality and the Musqueam to create better dialogue between the two sides.

Council acknowledged the need to move forward on their concerns and voted to refer their presentation to municipal staff.

Land acknowledgements not coming

Gillanders says she felt obligated to put forward an effort to have the traditional territories acknowledged, after the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced preliminary findings from a survey of the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School indicating the remains of 215 children buried at the site.

With relatives who survived residential schools, she said the need for reconciliation is increasingly urgent. Land acknowledgments are one way that municipalities can help drive the effort forward, she said.

Chaslynn Gillanders spoke in front of Richmond City Council, advocating for land acknowledgements as well as other commitments to reconciliation. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

"It shows respect to the Indigenous nations — and it's just the appropriate thing to do," she told CBC News.

But despite her presentation to council, Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie says the city's hands are tied due to it being the defendant in two different lawsuits over parcels of land.

One of them is a dispute with the Musqueam over the Garden City Lands, which Richmond bought for $59 million in 2010 — before the lawsuit was filed. The money was split between the First Nation and the federal government.

The other is a claim by the Cowichan First Nation over land near Triangle Beach in Richmond.

Brodie said they demonstrate their sincerity and reconciliation in other ways, but any land acknowledgement from the city could have sweeping legal implications.

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie says a series of lawsuits are keeping the municipality from making formal land acknowledgements.

Grant wouldn't comment on the status of the Musqueam legal claim aside from saying that the case is dormant and that the city shouldn't use it to keep it from acknowledging traditional land owners.

"They're using it as a cloud cover, as a cloak," he said.