VIDEO: White Rock’s Totem Park renaming motion to be reconsidered

1999 commemorative ceremony video shows ‘historic’ apology from RCMP to First Nations

After two of his predecessors voiced concerns over a decision to rename Totem Park, White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker says he will enact a section of the Community Charter that will require council to reconsider – and vote again – on the resolution.

On July 8, council unanimously voted to rename the park, located on East Beach, after the late grand chief of Semiahmoo First Nation, Bernard Charles.

Following council’s decision to rename the park, former White Rock mayors Wayne Baldwin (2011-2018) and Hardy Staub (1994-2002) wrote a letter to city staff, the mayor and Peace Arch News expressing their concern about the name change.

The park, formerly called Lion’s Lookout, was created to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the RCMP.

The two former mayors requested that Walker use section 131 of the Community Charter to force council to reconsider the decision with an accompanying staff report and public viewing of the video showing the Totem Park commemorative ceremony and blessing, held in 1999.

Baldwin provided PAN a copy of the video Monday, which shows an emotional apology from the RCMP to Indigenous people.

Baldwin said one of the significant aspects of the apology was not only that it was made in White Rock, but that it occurred years before the federal government worked towards reconciliation.

“I’m pretty sure that no one on council knows about it. Certainly they weren’t around. I doubt very much that any members of staff even know about it but at least they can research it,” Baldwin told PAN.

“I think it’s worth sharing. It’s pretty significant, again, because of the reconciliation issue and because it was done so far in advance (of the federal government).”

Baldwin said another issue is that the RCMP commemorative park was funded through donations – not taxpayer money.

“That money was raised for that purpose and it just seems to me that changing the name detracts from that and also betrays a trust, in essence, with the people whom paid all of that money,” Baldwin said.

The original motion to rename the park was brought forward by Coun. Helen Fathers. Moments later, Walker moved to refer the motion back to staff for more information, but his motion was defeated.

During the debate, Walker said that there are other organizations to be considered at Totem Plaza, and that the motion “needs to come forward from the entire council” and not an individual.

Fathers said during the July 8 meeting that she took “total umbrage” at 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.

RELATED: White Rock councillor ‘takes umbrage’ with mayor’s criticism of park-renaming motion

Fathers said Monday (July 15) that the renaming motion was made in the spirit of reconciliation.

“The motion was made with all due respect for the Semiahmoo First Nation. It isn’t meant to disrespect what came before that,” Fathers said. “I would still like to see it be called the Bernard Charles Plaza.”

Monday, Walker said he received and read the letter from Baldwin and Staub, and that he appreciated their input.

“In our haste to get something done, we went too far without actually looking at the facts. I can tell you that at this point, we’re going to review that particular decision at the upcoming meeting this Monday,” Walker said.

Walker said that other groups, such as the RCMP and Lion’s Club, were not considered in the name change.

“We’re going to go back and reconsider it and make sure that we get it right,” Walker said.

The video of the 1999 ceremony shows an apology from the RCMP for the “morally wrong” role Mounties played in residential schools.

“Some of the laws in which we have had occasion become involved to enforce, certainly affected the Aboriginal First Nations people of this country,” said the officer, who the Surrey RCMP and E-Division RCMP have not yet been able to identify for PAN.

“We were an arm of the Canadian government that was responsible for the apprehension of children. We assisted in the suppression of ceremonies, the destruction of regalia.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us if we talk about healing and moving forward that there has to be a starting point. That we can stand up and say it’s regrettable, lets reconcile. The bottom line and the basic concept of healing is an apology.

“I am here as a representative of the RCMP today to apologize to the First Nations people that are here,” the officer said.

The video also shows a blessing ceremony of the park’s two totem poles.

“Bernard got up and he spoke as well,” Baldwin said of the video. “He was quite emotional and very thankful and honoured that this had been done.”

Haida artist Robert Davidson, who carved one of the poles, told the gathering that the ceremony brought tears to his eyes.

Baldwin, Staub and Walker all agree that Charles, who served as grand chief for 33 years, should be recognized in White Rock.

“The desire for recognition for Grand Chief Bernard Charles is absolutely there,” Walker said. “There’s no doubt about it. We just want to make sure that it’s right.”

RELATED: City of White Rock, SFN reaffirm close ties

SFN Chief Harley Chappell could not be reached for comment by PAN press deadline.

However, last week Chappell described the decision to rename the park as “fantastic news.”

“It’s a meaningful step in the reconciliation process,” Chappell told PAN 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.”

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White Rock’s Totem Plaza on East Beach. (Geoffrey Yue photo)

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