EDITORIAL: A step worthy of sure-footedness

The suggested renaming of Totem Plaza to honour the late Semiahmoo First Nation Grand Chief Bernard Charles – and resistance to acting in haste expressed by current Mayor Darryl Walker and former mayors Wayne Baldwin and Hardy Staub – is but the latest chapter in a long saga of historically repressive governments, subsequent good intentions and unfortunate missteps.

The Semiahmoo Peninsula, and a vast surrounding area on either side of the Canada-U.S. border, were the traditional territory of the Semiahma and related Coast Salish nations. But some 200 years ago this land began to be colonized by white settlers predisposed to consider the original inhabitants “savages” in dire need of Western “civilization.”

Thus began the lengthy era of the residential schools in which many generations of First Nations children – Semiahma among them – were cruelly separated from their parents and subjected to a most punitive form of social and religious re-education in the mistaken notion that they could, and should, be made to fit in with colonial society.

Flash forward to two decades ago, when the RCMP – keenly aware of its role in enforcing earlier unjust laws – sought to celebrate the 125th birthday of the force by righting past wrongs, symbolically at least.

Thus was White Rock’s Totem Plaza created, with funds raised from the public by the RCMP and the White Rock Lions Club, to showcase two totem poles commissioned by the RCMP from First Nations artist Robert Davidson and a team of apprentice carvers.

The intentions were clearly good, although it could be argued that the Canadian mainstream’s latter-day practice of commissioning First Nations art as a quick fix for expiating national guilt has come perilously close, at times, to cultural appropriation.

But many have forgotten that the RCMP project was a gesture of reconciliation not just to the Semiahmoo First Nation but to other First Nations across B.C. The poles carved consequently – and quite deliberately – represent both a Haida totem and also a Coast Salish house post.

That this has not been reiterated over the years is scarcely surprising – as Chief Harley Chappell also noted, local elders, after decades of suppression, have been understandably wary of discussing their culture, or correcting mainstream misunderstandings of it.

Charles, himself, was touched by the historic significance of the RCMP’s gesture. When he died in 2008, nobody argued against re-dedicating the plaza in his memory. And no-one disputes the Grand Chief’s worthiness for such formal recognition. But if it’s a step worth taking, it’s one worth taking prudently, and with respect for a new era of meaningful reconciliation.

Just Posted

White Rock looking at 3.9% tax increase

Budget discussions are to take place this week

PHOTOS: White Rock Festival of Lights celebrated with a cheer

Hundreds of people gathered in the city Saturday for a Christmas event

Plans for new Surrey hospital to be updated Monday

News conference announced by Premier Horgan and health minister Adrian Dix

Surrey 37 per cent behind in housing supply projections

Of 18 cities in Metro Vancouver, only City of North Vancouver and Richmond met or exceeded projections

Surrey RCMP asks for public’s help to find missing 15-year-old boy

Prabhjot Singh Gill was last seen Dec. 6 in the area of 140th Street and 66th Avenue

VIDEO: SNL skewers Trudeau’s mockery of Trump in high school cafeteria sketch

The three world leaders won’t let Trump sit at the cool kids’ table

B.C. universities post $340 million worth of surpluses thanks to international student tuition

Students call for spending as international enrolment produces huge surpluses at many universities

Conservative urge Morneau to deliver ‘urgent’ fall economic update

Morneau says the first thing the Liberals plan to do is bring in their promised tax cut for the middle class

INFOGRAPHIC: How much money did your local university or college make last year?

B.C. university and colleges posted a combined $340 million surplus in 2018/19

B.C. creates $8.5M organization to improve safety for health care workers

Group will bring together unions, province, health care organizations

Four men in hospital after early morning Vancouver stabbing

A large group of men was seen fighting in Yaletwon

Kovrig clings to humour as ‘two Michaels’ near one year in Chinese prison

Their detention is widely viewed as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou

B.C. VIEWS: An engine that hums right along

First Nations are leading a new surge of investment in B.C.

Most Read

l -->