What was supposed to be a groundbreaking moment of civic celebration turned controversial last week before a small crowd of invited guests at the White Rock waterfront.
It was meant to be a sod-turning ceremony for the reconstruction of the City of White Rock’s Memorial Park. Instead, dignitaries were treated to a spectacle, as Mayor Wayne Baldwin went on the offence when confronted – albeit calmly and deliberately – by Chief Harley Chappell and councillors Joanne Charles and Roxanne Charles of the Semiahmoo First Nation, whose reservation is located just east of the city along Semiahmoo Bay.
Clearly, based on public comments reverberating throughout the city and beyond, some will have prejudged who is right and who is wrong, based on their own experiences and opinions of First Nation treaty negotiations in Canada. Others, perhaps, have a preconceived notion of some of the specific players and parties involved, based on past dealings and public comments.
The matter, however, is not black and white.
Certainly, it does involve civility and respect.
That the city wouldn’t invite the First Nation – perhaps even more so than the city’s reasoning behind not inviting the general public – to a ceremony along on the aptly named bay is questionable; that the city wouldn’t consult with the First Nation on the project prior to this late stage of land development is inconceivable.
As well, that the Semiahmoo First Nation had little knowledge of the publicly discussed plans to spend $4.5 million for park upgrades on an area that potentially involves an ancient burial ground seems to stretch credulity. More than likely, band leaders could well have chosen to express concern far sooner, in a time and place far less embarrassing for the city.
The greyness of the issue seems to be mired in past communications – or lack thereof – between the city and First Nation, as discussed for two hours at White Rock City Hall by select members of both councils immediately following the confrontation. (That two members of White Rock council were excluded from the conversation further muddies the situation, but that is a bone of contention for the city alone and need not hinder negotiations.)
For now, we are only grateful that the contention led to consultation, and a promise by the city to host an archaeological study of the site before any reconstruction would proceed.
There is now hope this is a new beginning of co-operation, dialogue and respect as two levels of government search for middle ground.