It was a small ceremony – but a meaningful and historic one.
A crowd of some 50 people gathered at Totem Plaza on East Beach on Friday as the councils of Semiahmoo First Nation and the City of White Rock gathered to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21).
In the space dedicated to the memory of late Grand Chief Bernard Charles, they heard SFN Chief Harley Chappell (Xwopokton) and Mayor Darryl Walker reaffirm their willingness to work together and move forward together as close neighbours in a newly-improved relationship.
And they watched as the youth dancers of SFN (including Chappell’s own children) performed in traditional regalia to centuries-old songs remembering the Semiahma’s flood legends, strength and commitment in battle, and the waterways that have always been essential highways for their people and other related Salish First Nations.
As Chappell pointed out in his remarks, it was an event that would likely have been unthinkable a generation or two ago.
“It wasn’t until very recently that our elders allowed us to wear our regalia in public,” he said.
“For a long time, we weren’t allowed to, and then when we were finally able to legally wear them they were scared,” he added, noting that elders feared that celebrating such traditions would lead to discrimination and exclusion.
“Now we’re not going anywhere,” he said, adding that it was time reconciliation became “reconcili-action.”
“Our people of the First Nations were forced to learn Canadian culture, and now it’s time to start feeding some back, in a good and positive way.”
Chappell thanked those attending “on behalf of my family and my community,” while SFN council members Joanne Charles and Jennine Cook joined the dancers in raising their hands in traditional welcome to those attending, who also included White Rock Couns. Helen Fathers, David Chesney, Christopher Trevelyan, Erica Johansen and Scott Kristjanson, as well as members of city staff and the RCMP.
And, Chappell said, the act of gathering, itself, was a significant as any joint statement of intent.
“The collecting of people is the sacred peace,” he said.
Walker said he and the current council have been working over the past several months to put together a meaningful relationship with the SFN, and that has involved learning about the history of the Semiahma, and understanding the “pain and damage” that has been done in the past.
“White Rock without the Semiahmoo First Nation (is something) I can’t imagine,” he said.
“It doesn’t take away anything from anybody…to build a community together.
“This is one of the most important pieces of work we’ve done,” he added.
“If we all dig deep enough, we’re all connected,” Chappell said. “The beauty of our bay is why we all settled here – this is the thing that connects us together.”
In another celebration of National Indigenous People’s Day, archaeologist and anthropologist Don Welsh, who has frequently worked with the SFN to research the history of its people, displayed his scale model of a Straits Salish fish-drying camp – as it would have appeared on the shores of Point Roberts some 200 years ago – at White Rock Library.