White Rock’s Totem Park is to be officially renamed after the late grand chief of Semiahmoo First Nation, Bernard Charles, following a motion Monday night in council chambers.
But the decision did not come without fireworks.
In making the motion, Coun. Helen Fathers noted the “utmost importance” of the relationship with the SFN, and called, “with deepest respect,” for the East Beach site to be renamed the Grand Chief Bernard Robert Charles Plaza.
Tensions rose, however, after Mayor Darryl Walker moved to refer the suggestion back to staff, saying while he would “in time, probably find it in myself to support it, I find it unusual to come forward at this point, and unusual to come forward from an individual.”
Walker elaborated that council has been “working for eight months now” to try and build its relationship with the SFN.
“Over and over again, we have said that we want it to be the First Nations who initiate and talk about the things that we do, that we put forward and the directions that we go,” he said.
“From my understanding that is not necessarily the case in this particular point. Further, there are other pieces and other organizations to be considered at Totem Plaza.”
He described the motion as “very positive,” but said it “needs to come forward from the entire council.”
“We need to be seen to be working on this together as one council, not just an individual that brings it forward.”
Fathers said she took “total umbrage” to Walker’s comments, which had also included a need to consider in the discussion “other pieces and organizations” that had been involved in the park.
The park features two totem poles that were raised in 1999 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the RCMP. Ten years later, the plaza was dedicated to the memory of the grand chief, who led the nation from 1963-1996.
Fathers said she respects “the fact that this council has been working on the Semiahmoo First Nations for eight months.”
But, “as a member of council that’s been here for 10 years, this has been a long time in the coming, and quite frankly, I’m shocked at what you’ve said,” she said.
“When a council member brings a motion forward, it then becomes the body of council, it’s not just the ownership or anything like that.
“The fact that it should’ve been called the Bernard Charles Plaza in the first place, it’s a small thing. I’ve already been in contact with (SFN Chief Harley Chappell), he’s totally thrilled, as is (band councillor) Joanne Charles. And, I also took the time to speak with Mr. Hogg as well.
“The fact that you think it’s not the right timing is purely your opinion. I’m entitled to bring forward a notice of motion, and hopefully council will support it.”
In voicing support for Fathers, Coun. David Chesney noted that Chappell, during a ceremony held jointly by the city and SFN at the plaza on National Indigenous Peoples Day last month, “clearly identified… that this has already been dedicated 10 years ago.”
“There’s a cairn there, it’s on the rock,” Chesney added.
“I think the only thing that we haven’t done is just change the sign, from Totem Plaza, simply to read what it’s supposed to read, which is already the dedication that has taken place.
“Personalities aside, this is just a housekeeping item, as far as I’m concerned.”
Walker’s motion to refer the item back to staff failed; Father’s renaming motion – which included to amend all corresponding signage – received unanimous support, with Coun. Erika Johanson absent.
Chappell on Tuesday described the decision as “fantastic news.”
“It’s a meaningful step in the reconciliation process,” Chappell told Peace Arch News in an emailed statement.
“The park was dedicated over 10 years ago and now with due process it will be acknowledged by its proper identity. This is definitely great work from the leadership at the City of White Rock and a very meaningful and respectful gesture towards our late grand chief, his family and indeed, the whole Semiahmoo First Nation.”