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General News · 25th June 2013
Conrad Dombrowski
Last week the Electoral Area Director of the Strathcona Regional District seems to have unwittingly made a statement about relations with First Nations in regards to the Klahoose First Nation marina rezone application.

As you know, Chief James Delorme of Klahoose First Nation proposed the use of the multi-purpose center at Klahoose for the public hearing in relation to a proposed foreshore rezoning. Given that this building is designed, among other things, to be a public gathering space and located in the community potentially most affected by the application the venue makes perfect sense. This is also the precedent set for public hearings of this nature, that they be located closest to the affected community.

Regional Directors chose instead to host the meeting at a different location, and also at a time when Klahoose leadership were unable to attend.

The implications of this decision equate to a statement about an attitude towards collaboration with First Nations by the regional board of Directors. By showing that it is not worth the effort to consult and collaborate with First Nations leadership regarding meeting details this makes a statement about the SRDs approach towards collaboration with First Nations governance and also about the autonomous nature of those governments. This negative attitude towards First Nations governance is not supported by Canadian public policy or law and should not be supported by our regional government.

The other, and perhaps worse implication of choosing not to meet at Klahoose is that of an attitude towards Native people as a culture of distinct heritage. Since the facility and the location are reasonable, by not hosting the event at Klahoose the board, in essence, declared that there is another reason not to hold the event there which would make it unfit as a meeting place. The implication of which is distrust in Klahoose to hold an impartial and respectful meeting space.

According to the Campbell River Mirror and the Cortes Island Tideline the primary reason for the decision to host this meeting elsewhere was in reaction to letters received by directors indicating that some people were afraid of not being able to voice their concerns about the marina proposal if the meeting were to be held at Klahoose. The terms “traditional territory” and “neutral ground” have been used as a poor excuse for this unspoken fear that Klahoose would be unable to provide a respectful, non coercive, open and fair meeting space.

In a potentially polarized situation such as this marina proposal there is no true neutral ground. Choosing not to host the meeting at Klahoose does not make the issue any less contentious, but only shifts the meeting to be more firmly on the terms of the non-Native population. This unbalanced approach to working with First Nations of ensuring that the non-Native population consistently has any advantage in negotiations destroys possibilities of true collaboration on equal terms.

It is significant to note that if there were letters asking for a meeting not to be held in Whaletown because people felt that they would not be heard, it would raise many questions as to what is going on in Whaletown to cause that kind of discomfort, but when this is in regards to Klahoose, these questions aren’t as pressing because among some of the regional directors they simply accept that people could feel uncomfortable at Klahoose. It may be true that some people may feel uncomfortable to enter a First Nations community and to be in a room with many people of First Nations heritage, and this kind of discomfort is not uncommon when cultures and nations interact. However, when it leads to action it is called discrimination or racism, and when government makes decisions to support this then it becomes institutionalized racism.

Director Anderson was able to keep this big picture in mind and see the colonial and racist undercurrents of this decision. She has fortunately drawn attention to this issue and what it represents. The details of a meeting time and place may be a small issue, but the implications of this decision are much larger.

Although the time for the public hearing has now been changed to a date that works for Klahoose, this small concession is not enough. If we, as a community, truly want to work collaboratively and openly with Klahoose, then we need to do all that we can to shift our Regional District approach to be significantly more respectful and to learn to work together without discrimination.