The City of Quesnel will be working towards developing an anti-racism strategy, conducting sensitivity training, improving staff and council’s knowledge of local Indigenous culture and history and consider signing onto the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
This commitment, made at the Nov. 17 council meeting, comes in response to calls by the Southern Dakelh Nation Alliance (SDNA) and neighbouring ?Esdilagh First Nation for the RCMP to investigate systemic racism and violence against Indigenous peoples in Quesnel following the Oct. 29 violent incident outside the West Park Mall involving an Ulkatcho woman and a private security guard. The security guard is not from Cariboo Security Ltd.
At the Nov. 17 meeting, Mayor Bob Simpson shared a news release from the chiefs of the SDNA – which consists of the Lhoosk’uz Dené Nation, Lhtako Dené Nation, Nazko First Nation and Ulkatcho First Nation – that condemns the Oct. 29 incident and calls on the RCMP “to ensure action is taken to investigate and find solutions to end the prevailing racism and violence faced by members of [the nations’] communities living and working in Quesnel.” He also brought forward a letter from the SDNA chiefs and ?Esdilagh First Nation Chief Roy Stump to Quesnel RCMP Staff Sgt. Darren Dodge condemning the incident and raising concerns about the perpetual impacts of racist incidents involving their members in Quesnel.
In the letter, the SDNA and ?Esdilagh ask the RCMP to take action to investigate and find solutions “to end the prevailing racism and violence our members face on a daily basis in Quesnel.” They also call on the RCMP to work with their nations to end systemic violence against Indigenous peoples in Quesnel and the region and to build better relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
The SDNA and ?Esdilagh ask the Quesnel RCMP to take steps to meaningfully implement the UNDRIP and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action “to ensure the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous peoples in Quesnel and beyond.”
Simpson said while the letter is not directed to council, the RCMP detachment is a function of the City of Quesnel; therefore, the action items are directed at the city.
In order to deepen the City of Quesnel’s reconciliation initiatives and partnerships with local First Nation governments, the city’s Policy and Bylaw Committee (PABCOM) has recommended that council consider signing onto the UNDRIP and the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; develop and adopt an anti-racism strategy for the City of Quesnel; and conduct anti-racism sensitivity training and improve the knowledge of staff and council regarding local Indigenous culture and history. This motion was carried unanimously by PABCOM at its Nov. 12 meeting and then carried unanimously by council Nov. 17.
“What we discussed at PABCOM was as a council and as a corporate entity, we have advanced quite substantially our desire to do First Nations recognition, first and foremost, reconciliation initiatives and partnerships, and I think we’ve advanced along that continuum quite significantly over the last six years,” said Simpson. “We have some pretty active partnerships. However, an unfinished piece of work is actually spoken to in the letter, and while the letter directs it at the RCMP that they do something to adopt the U.N. declaration and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that actually is the purview of council. I think that work of internalizing the U.N. Declaration of Indigenous Rights and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action is a piece of unfinished work that we need to do.”
Simpson told council he received a phone call from Chief Lebrun Nov. 15, and Chief Lebrun was asking for council to continue its work and for Simpson as the mayor to join him and the other chiefs on a statement that the city and the First Nations are going to continue this work together.
“I said to staff as we were talking about this, I don’t think most of us can understand the level of pain that exists in our aboriginal community,” said Simpson. “I don’t think unless we’ve had that lived experience, we can really understand the true depths of that, and the conversation I had with Chief Lebrun really illustrated that. And when we get incidents like this, it’s not about the incident, it’s about what the incident triggers. And it triggers that pain that’s there, it triggers that historic extinguishment of rights, the attempt at an extinguishment of a culture through the residential school, and I think we need to do everything that we can to make that right in our generation. These steps that are being recommended through PABCOM to finish the work on the U.N. Declaration and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deepen our work on an anti-racism strategy and also to do some of the training that goes with that, I think, are the right steps for council to take.”
Coun. Tony Goulet thinks this recommendation is very timely in building relationships with local First Nations communities.
“I think it’s been a long time coming to look at the racism within this; it’s always been there, and the mayor made a comment that when things happen, it does bring up in the aboriginal community things that are beyond our control, things that have happened that we really cannot fabricate as an individual but that has stuck with those aboriginal people as they move forward,” he said. “I think it’s good to understand and do some training and really grasp what the issues are. You’ll be really surprised, I think, when you start talking to some of the elderly people and some of the residential school [survivors], and that’s a big piece of this as well. You will start to see a picture of how things came to be and where things are going. You’ll see that they are open to talking and having that reconciliation; they’re not against it. They’re very open to start a dialogue and begin something – just where do we begin? We don’t know and they don’t know.
“They want to heal, and they want to work with the powers that be to help them heal, so I think there’s a huge, huge reconciliation piece that’s coming and moving forward. The younger generation is also understanding that and moving forward with that. I think we’re moving in the right direction. I think there will be more to come as we work through this and understand what the U.N. declaration really is. There are lots of pieces in there that need to be dealt with, from language, housing, social problems, to the whole nine yards, so we’re just on the surface of something huge, and I would just support this 100 per cent.”
Coun. Laurey-Anne Roodenburg thanked Goulet for his heartfelt words and also voiced her support for the motion.
“I totally agree there is lots as a council that we can do, and I think if we have an opportunity to do some kind of understanding of what even the local history and culture is about and how that plays into everything that happens in our community, I think we’re better people for it,” she said.
Simpson explained with this motion, council has not adopted anything, but it has committed to start the work. The three points will now go back to PABCOM, and PABCOM will do this work and bring it back to council, he said.