British Columbia

First Nations disappointed in West Vancouver council decision to no longer read land acknowledgments out loud

West Vancouver city council announced it will no longer read Indigenous land acknowledgments aloud at meetings. Instead, the acknowledgment will be printed at the top of council agendas.

Move from verbal to written acknowledgment shows lack of understanding of Coast Salish traditions: councillor

In a letter to West Vancouver's mayor on behalf of Squamish Nation Council, chairperson Khelsilem voiced disappointment over city council's decision to no longer read Indigenous land acknowledgments aloud at council meetings. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)

The Squamish Nation says it is "displeased" after West Vancouver city council changed its land acknowledgment policy.

Last week, council announced it will no longer read Indigenous land acknowledgments aloud at meetings. Instead, the acknowledgment will be printed at the top of council agendas.

West Vancouver Mayor Mark Sager says council believes the change is a more effective way to show respect. 

"We feel that printing the acknowledgment is frankly more productive, more meaningful than reading it out briefly and quickly at the beginning of a meeting where people may start to tune out," he said.

"We believe everyone will read it and see it."

Last week, West Vancouver Council announced that they would no longer read Indigenous land acknowledgements at the beginning of all their meetings. Instead, they will be written out at the top of each council agenda. CBC story producer Jeremy Ratt spoke with West Vancouver Mayor Mark Sager, Tsleil-Waututh Nation Chief Jen Thomas, and Squamish Nation Councillor and Spokesperson Wilson Williams.

Sager says the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations were not consulted prior to the decision. 

In a letter to Sager on behalf of Squamish Nation Council, chairperson Khelsilem called the decision a "setback" to the positive relationship between the nation and the City of West Vancouver that has developed over the years.

"The decision lacks the foundational respect required to build an authentic and meaningful relationship between our two governments, a relationship that is critical to our shared success," the letter reads.

The letter calls for an immediate council-to-council meeting to discuss the impacts of the decision.

Wilson Williams, a Squamish Nation councillor, says the decision to move from a verbal to written land acknowledgment displays a lack of understanding of Coast Salish traditions.

"We come from oral people and oral tradition where we verbally share these words," he said.

"A lot of our cultural ceremonies are in person where we're talking and speaking to people and honouring people in our way, and that's always been our way." 

An opportunity for education

Sager says council is interested in maintaining a strong and constructive relationship with First Nations. 

Tsleil-Waututh Nation Chief Jen Thomas says she found the change "a little bit disturbing" and that it feels like a step backwards in their relationship with the city.

She says she is open to continuing to build relationships with municipalities and to educate new councils about the land and the history of its peoples.

"Maybe there is not enough understanding with the new city council in place, maybe there isn't enough information or knowledge they have of the three nations here," Thomas said. 

Williams also sees an opportunity for education. For many people, he says, land acknowledgments remain an entry point on the path toward reconciliation.

"Let's build a relationship and it starts with communication," he said.

"When I get asked to open up an event or do a land acknowledgment or start off with a prayer, I acknowledge who I am and where I come from. And in saying that I acknowledge where my ancestral name comes from and it comes from the land."

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