It’s been more than two years since Vancouver Park Board adopted its reconciliation strategies and this week the board took another step on the long road to reconciliation.
In January 2016, the park board adopted 11 strategies in response to the 94 calls to action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The strategies encompass a range of goals, including adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, staff training on Indigenous issues and reconciliation, and ensuring the integration of Aboriginal history, heritage values and memory practices in policies around monuments, memorial and public art.
This week, commissioners took things a step further and adopted a reconciliation mission, vision and values.
“We’re at a critical juncture for the future of reconciliation,” Rena Soutar, the board’s reconciliation planner, told commissioners. “The park board and institutions at all levels have done important work in recognizing the unique issues inherent in reconciling our relationship with the Aboriginal peoples of this land, but this work is only phase one.”
Soutar presented the mission, vision and values statement, saying that a “good compass” is needed to guide the work of reconciliation.
“We believe this journey will enrich us all and that articulating an inspirational vision with core values to support it helps us all paddle in the same direction.”
She said the 11 strategies address a specific set of issues and provide tactics to implement in park board processes and projects, work that has already started and will continue, while adopting the mission, vision and values statement embeds the reconciliation principles.
The mission is to decolonize the Vancouver Park Board by recognizing “the institution’s colonial history” and upholding its commitment to the 11 reconciliation strategies.
“In my mind this does mark quite a significant shift in paradigm and attitude to reconciliation,” Soutar told the Courier, adding that it shifts the focus from improving relations with First Nations people to examining what made the relations problematic in the first place and figuring out how to fix those problems.
“I’m just really pleased with how well it was received,” she said of the statement, which was adopted unanimously. “I’m looking forward to this next piece of deciding with my colleagues and whoever else is buying into this mission, vision and values on what that means for us.”
The vision is for the park board to be “an evolvable organization in which every employee and commissioner recognizes the humanity in themselves by recognizing and respecting the humanity of First Peoples” and one that sets an example in treating reconciliation as a process of decolonization.
And the values include clarity, pragmatism, leadership, learning and patience.
“We’ve heard something from our staff partners at Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations, and that’s that important things take time,” Soutar said. “And it’s not just that we need to be patient because important things take time, it’s that they actually need that time to take root.”
Board chair and Green Party commissioner, Stuart Mackinnon said that reconciliation isn’t just up to a few individuals.
“It doesn’t fall on two or three employees, it falls on all of the staff, all of the commissioners and in fact all of the residents of our city to move forward with this.”
Fellow Green commissioner Michael Wiebe echoed his sentiments and praised staff for a making a strong statement in the mission to decolonize the park board.
“I think sometimes we tip toe around a subject that we’re all involved in and I think they’ve done a great job here of not doing that and making sure that we’re pushing the boundaries.”
Mackinnon also introduced a reconciliation motion of his own, which was carried unanimously, directing staff to analyze the park board’s colonial roots and current practices, asking for a report back that includes “recommendations to acknowledge any and all injustices uncovered as part of the ‘truth-telling’ phase.”
“It’s time that the park board told those truths,” Mackinnon said. “It’s from those truths that healing can begin.”