The City of White Rock’s plans to launch its much-touted Memorial Park upgrades ground to a halt before the event could begin Thursday, following a tense confrontation between Semiahmoo First Nation and city officials.
As invited dignitaries gathered, Mayor Wayne Baldwin – a cease-and-desist order in hand from SFN Chief Harley Chappell – called off the waterfront groundbreaking ceremony.
“We will cease right now, we will pack this up, we will get this straightened away and we will continue on with the project,” Baldwin told Chappell.
The mayor added the confrontation “is not making our relations any better, I can tell you that right now.”
Chappell attended the site accompanied by SFN councillors Joanne Charles and Roxanne Charles after learning Wednesday afternoon of the by-invitation groundbreaking plans through the Peace Arch News website. En route, he told PAN that no one from the band had been consulted about the $4.5-million plans for the park, which is on traditional SFN land. They were also not invited to the morning’s festivities.
“I knew nothing of it,” Chappell said.
He described the site as a potential ancient burial ground, and the city’s process to date as “blatant disregard to their community and their neighbours.”
“Obviously we have huge concerns when it comes to the archeological site that it’s on.
“I’m hoping to have a conversation with Mayor (Wayne) Baldwin before I get there. It’s obviously not going to be resolved today, but I think only out of respect, until the proper protocols are followed, work is halted.”
At the scene, Chappell told city manager Dan Bottrill that the situation – of no consultation with the band regarding the park, as well as ongoing issues of contention – was “preposterous.”
“You have a responsibility as a municipality to consult with local community, you have a responsibility to the Heritage Act to ensure that proper permits and protocol are done for historical areas, high-potential areas.
The city issued a “media advisory” last Friday regarding the groundbreaking. The launch was to kick off an approximately eight-month project – that includes a new design, new washrooms, expanded concert and performance area, improved all-abilities access, and more – that was announced on a smaller scale in February 2016.
“It started with a simple plan and ended up with something fantastic,” engineering and municipal operations director Greg St. Louis – who has since left his post with the city – told council at their July 24 meeting.
The Sept. 8 advisory notes that the work was “approved by council following public consultation and feedback.”
In a post to PAN’s Facebook page Wednesday evening, responding to the story detailing the groundbreaking, Chappell notes the city also does not have the necessary archeological permits to proceed.
“The project, which is to include a bigger footprint than the existing park, is situated on a key and sensitive archeological site of one of our nation’s ancient villages and may very well include remains of our long passed ancestors,” he writes. “We find this disrespectful to us, and our ancestors in every way.”
“…we demand the city cease and desist until meaningful dialogue and consultation has been completed.”
Chappell confirmed to PAN that the matter goes beyond this one issue; and is tied to ongoing tension between the band and the city. The band will not consider agreeing to permits “until we sit and have proper conversation and proper discussion about several issues we have with the City of White Rock,” he said. “One of the only weights that we have is being able to hold the City of White Rock to some honour and respect to the area that they live in and have jurisdiction over.”
During Thursday’s confrontation – which RCMP officers monitored from a respectful distance – the issue of White Rock planning to cut off its water supply next February to the SFN reserve arose, as Chappell pointed to areas of “disconnect” between the two communities.
Baldwin told Chappell the water issue “was of your doing.”
“You initiated it, we just followed through on it,” Baldwin said, referring to a meeting between the two sides.
He cut off Roxanne Charles when she interjected.
“Roxanne, you weren’t there,” Baldwin said. “You can’t speak to it firsthand because you were not there.”
The confrontation ended with Baldwin – following comment from Chappell about unsuccessful efforts to have the two sides meet – suggesting an immediate council-to-council meeting at city hall, the results of which were not available by PAN’s press time.