Fire Board debates acknowledging First Nations traditional territory at start of public meetings

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, November 11 2020

The Gabriola Fire Protection Improvement District Board has approved a motion to include acknowledgement of the District operating on Snuneymuxw First Nation traditional territory in all of their meetings.

The motion was brought forward by Trustee Penelope Bahr at the Fire Board’s regular meeting held November 5.

The Board had held an in camera session after the September Board meeting.

During the November 5 meeting, Trustee Paul Giffin said there had been a Board decision during the in camera session to not include any kind of acknowledgement when opening the meetings.

Bahr gave a notice of motion at the October meeting of the board that she was going to bring it forward at the November meeting. Before Bahr could make her motion, here was some dispute at the November 5 meeting over whether it could still be brought forward. Chair Sandra Rudischer said it could still come forward, and only Trustee Paul Giffin voted against Rudischer’s decision.

Bahr moved that, “the Gabriola Fire Protection Improvement District Board of Trustees open all our public meetings with an acknowledgement that we are gathering within the traditional lands of the Snuneymuxw Nation.”

Her motion was seconded by Trustee Sean Lewis.During the discussion, Bahr said she was making the motion, “because I believe that Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and our BC government’s acceptance of the underlying principles of UNDRIP* (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples) are a step in the right direction towards ridding ourselves of lingering bias and prejudice, and because public acknowledgment fosters inclusiveness and community.”

She noted that in terms of local governments and government bodies on Gabriola, the Islands Trust, the Regional District of Nanaimo, the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District #68, Vancouver Island Regional Library, they all begin their public meetings with similar acknowledgements. Bahr said, “we’re a government body, and for that reason we should do it.”

Lewis said he had previously thought he didn’t want to have one group of society being treated differently - and so had initially not wanted to have such a greeting to start meetings. He said when he started to learn more, that changed his mind. He said, “the Indian Act...can be accurately described as systemic racism.”

Lewis said there are a wide range of greetings which are used by the different levels of government, but what Bahr was proposing, “is a truthful acknowledgement of historical fact.

“Whether anyone is living here, this land has been occupied by humans for a long time, I don’t think we are losing anything or taking anything from the [Gabriola Fire] department. We’re not taking sides in treaty negotiation, we’re not doing anything other than being respectful.”

Trustee John Moeller said the motion had a political spin to it, “I don’t think we should be involved in it any way.”

Trustee Paul Giffin said he has spent hours on the phone at the local level and provincial level, “trying to find out where this [public acknowledgements] started. As I’m sitting here now, no one can tell me. No one can actually give me a reason. I have said before, and I will say again, I think it is a dangerous precedent when you start recognizing certain segments over other segments of our world.”

He added there could be more than just Snuneymuxw First Nation who could lay claim to the Gabriola area.

He said of the all the people listed on Bahr’s list, “with the exception of Premier Horgan, are either municipal, provincial, or federal agencies.

“We are none of the above.”

Bahr said the Fire Improvement District is a provincial agency.

Giffin said he wouldn’t argue, but that, “our area of responsibility is the Gabriola Volunteer Fire Department, we are not a political entity.” He added that Gabriola is within Canada, and the rights, “that are being discussed are enshrined in the constitution.” He suggested decisions should be made at a federal and provincial level.

“It may be appropriate for us to revisit this. But this is a political issue, and I don’t think we should be involved with it at the 

“I served this country [as an RCMP officer] for 41 years, and I would say I have attended more ceremonies, I have more respect for cultures in this country than anyone else in this room.

“So what I am doing here is in no way meant to be disrespectful to any group.”

Trustee Moher said she has her doubts about acknowledgements, that, “I have friends who are First Nations who feel this is a false economy type of situation, where we say it to make ourselves feel better, so I always feel like I need to apologize before I say it, in order to say it. We’re going to be wrong no matter what we do.”

Trustee Mark Noyon said in addition to those organizations and governments listed by Bahr, the Vancouver Island University does acknowledgements of First Nations.

“Every meeting. Everywhere at the beginning of the meeting, it is recognition of the Snuneymuxw First Nation.”

Bahr said, “whether you think you are being political...for me it is a matter of respect. I do respect you’ve all had your opinion on that, which is why I brought it as a motion.”

Trustees Bahr, Lewis, Noyon, and Moher voted in favour of the motion. Trustees Moeller and Giffin voted against it. Chair Rudischer did not vote.

The motion passed.