Letter: It's time to start paying our rent

Judi Gedye calls for a gesture that goes beyond the standard territorial acknowledgement.

Dear Editor:

“…and I would like to acknowledge and remind us all that this event is taking place on the unceded territory of the Squamish Nation…”

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Assume for the moment that a similar phrase is spoken before every council and committee meeting, every musical, theatre, school or social event, every social, supper and tea. How many gestures would that add up to over a year?

But with repetition the words can become rote. What would keep those words fresh? What would make them more than token pronouncements? 

The words are intended to raise awareness of one fundamental issue in reconciliation –settlers forget or ignore the fact that there were other people living here before the British or Spanish or Americans sailed offshore, or better still, with guides, walked over the mountains, waved an arm and pronounced that all that was visible now belonged to England, or whatever country’s flag they carried. For a few hundred years, European settlers survived only with the help and skills of the original peoples. Once the fur trade decimated the animal populations, there was much less need for co-operation and the dominating, inherently racist, culture began to take in earnest. Land, fish, forests, everything that could be sold for a profit, was sold with no thought or consideration of sharing or paying for the privilege. In fact, with the introduction of highly infectious diseases, creation of reserves and residential schools, banning of potlatches and fair trade, disenfranchisement and all the other apartheid horrors for decades never discussed or taught in “good” schools, the First Nations people in this province also were decimated. Trick is, and maybe it is the ultimate value of the rough terrain and isolation, they survived. Despite every conceivable effort to force assimilation, some even call it cultural genocide, that has not happened. 

Today we talk about reconciliation and how to create better relationships between First Nations and settlers for the mutual benefit of all. It is not only an important conversation but is premised on realizations that genocide never was and is not today a viable option. That there are several vibrant cultures in our midst that have environmental wisdom as core values and none of us can move forward into a better future until we find better solutions to our extraction and consumer economy.

I am suggesting that we, as an independent municipality within the Squamish Nation territory, in the middle of the Salish Sea, which is experiencing a dramatic biological comeback from the relatively recent demise of extractive industries, as an active member of the Islands Trust, which has acted as a protective barrier to maintain a unique rural and marine environment, and as a community interested in creative, respectful and inclusive solutions to problems, formally create a method of emphasizing the words spoken at the beginning of every event and gathering. We could collect $1 for every time those words are spoken, plus pass the hat to add to the initiative, and then give that money as a token of “rent” to the Squamish Nation in furtherance of their efforts to save Howe Sound. In the process of handing over such a tithe, we could take that opportunity to develop formal conversations seeking solutions to our many shared challenges. 

The feds and the province might tell us we are acting outside our jurisdiction as a municipality, that the issues are more complex, that we don’t have the resources to be effective, that merely being good neighbours is sufficient. But those would be mere Goliath tactics. If they did notice, that would be a sign that there really was something good happening –something very different from the stonewalling and foot-dragging they have nothing to be proud of for the past few decades. 

So how does one start a formal declaration by the municipality? First, I think council needs to be aware there is some interest from the community so that it gets onto their list of priorities and then we need to sort out how to keep track of their progress. Second, while waiting for the process of formalizing a declaration of our intent, we start collecting coins to have some physical weight and the jingle of commitment to help persuade. I would like to start collecting tin cans with plastic lids and will see if I can get space for such containers at the recycling depot. 

I am happy to acknowledge that many of the ideas here have been generated by the work and imaginations of others, conversations overheard and gatherings recently sponsored by our library and other interested elders. Finally, anyone willing to help? 

—Judi Gedye, jgedye@telus.net

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