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Park Board approves landmark colonial audit

July 24 2018

Workers digging through a First Nations midden (archaeological site) to build road through Stanley Park in 1888

The Vancouver Park Board has approved an unprecedented audit outlining its own colonial history and actions and will seek an opportunity to formally apologize to the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations for “core acts of colonialism”.

These actions include dispossession and theft of ancestral lands in traditional Coast Salish territories including Vancouver beach areas and what came to be known as ‘Stanley Park’ in the years after the Park Board was formed in 1888.

The recommendation for an apology was introduced by Board Chair Stuart Mackinnon, as part of a colonial audit of the Board’s own history and actions. The audit outlined the Board’s colonial roots and the ways in which colonialism has been embedded in the structure and policies of the only elected Park Board in a Canadian city.

Quote from Park Board Chair Stuart Mackinnon

“The occupation of unceded territories has produced the uncomfortable question of what it means for the Park Board to hold jurisdiction over the federally and internationally recognized traditional territories of Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples,” said Park Board Chair Stuart Mackinnon.

“To move forward we must come from a position of truth and humility and acknowledge that our colonial past requires us to take responsibility. This responsibility means we must be willing to admit fault and seek an opportunity to formally apologize to the local First Nations.”

Audit purpose

In approving the audit and recommending an apology, the Park Board acknowledged its own colonial history and responsibility in acts of dispossession, theft of lands, and removal of entire First Nations communities from their traditional territories with the declaration of jurisdiction over "Stanley Park" and Vancouver beach areas where local First Nations lived for millennia before settlers arrived.

The report cites the widespread disturbance of significant archaeological sites by the Park Board and the erasure of Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh history and presence in areas currently under Board jurisdiction. It also states that – throughout the history of Park Board decision-making – local Indigenous knowledge of the land has been overlooked and dismissed.

The Board also directed staff to undertake a more comprehensive colonial audit for a deeper analysis of all areas of colonial impact. This audit would contribute to the truth-telling phase of Truth and Reconciliation and lead to actions to embed a decolonized perspective into Park Board policies and practices.

The comprehensive colonial audit approved by the Board on Monday will more fully document long term practices, impacts, and the ways in which colonialism is woven into the Park Board from strategic levels to day-to-day operations. Next steps and meaningful actions will only be possible once a more complete audit has been completed.

The recommended apology and colonial audit are extensions of the reconciliation work begun in the early days of this Park Board’s tenure at a historic meeting in 2015 between the three First Nations and the elected Board. At that meeting, they launched a joint process to develop a long-term comprehensive plan for Stanley Park. This marked the first time the Board officially acknowledged the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples as rights holders.

Reconciliation strategies approved in 2016

In January of 2016, the Park Board approved eleven reconciliation strategies, setting a framework for initiatives across the organization including:

  • Language and culture
  • Commemoration
  • Professional development and training for public servants
  • Education for reconciliation
  • Youth programs
  • Sports

Staff hired to support reconciliation

Also in 2016, the Park Board worked with the Nations to hire the first municipal archeologist in Canada, Geordie Howe, to work exclusively on Indigenous issues. His responsibilities include a review of current archeological practices to ensure that Aboriginal protocols are respected in all park developments.

In late 2017, the Park Board approved a reconciliation planner position to support an ambitious agenda. The planner, Rena Soutar, works with colleagues at the Park Board and City to advance mutual goals and create lasting relationships between municipal governments and Indigenous communities.

The reconciliation planner also works with park research, planning, and development teams on significant projects such as park naming and review of monuments, memorials, and public art processes and policies to ensure integration of Indigenous history, heritage values, and memory practices.

The comprehensive colonial audit approved by the Park Board on Monday will be conducted over the next year by staff in collaboration with First Nations intergovernmental partners. It will come back to the elected Park Board for further review sometime in the next two years.