EDITORIAL: A historic lesson

Meeting of the SFN and White Rock councils offers perspective

A joint public meeting of the councils of the Semiahmoo First Nation and White Rock Wednesday night was quite unlike any others in recent memory – and possibly unlike any others before in the history of either local government.

Certainly the two bodies have met in the past – both publicly and privately – for reasons of ceremony, for expressions of goodwill and the fostering of understanding, for negotiations on specific issues, and even, as in the sad case of the Memorial Park debacle last year, in circumstances of confrontation.

But seldom has there been the same degree of frankness and openness in discussing not only the history that has led to bitter and lingering division, but also the common human aims, the shared pride in living in one of the world’s most beautiful locations, and the mutual benefits of respectful co-operation.

Jointly led by SFN Chief Harley Chappell (Xwopokton) and White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker at the Old Tribe Restaurant, the meeting was not about specific actions or a detailed agenda, although White Rock council unanimously endorsed a motion to direct staff to work with SFN on developing both communication and general protocols for interaction between both governments.

Rather, most of the meeting involved White Rock council respectfully listening to Chappell and SFN council member Joanne Charles explain the history of the Semiahma (the indigenous people of this area) from a First Nations perspective.

Chappell and Charles related that their people once numbered in the hundreds of thousands in a traditional territory that still extends both north and south of the current border. When the border was established in the 1840s the current Semiahma became a branch established to protect the northern interests of the people. Though their numbers were vastly reduced by smallpox, warfare and the intrusive effects of the Indian Act – including the infamous residential schools policy – the SFN still retains strong familial ties with other groups on both sides of the border and on Vancouver Island.

In spite of the bitterness of the past, there is renewed hope for the future, Chappell said. And that includes huge potential for federal economic development and infrastructure assistance for regionally-significant co-operative projects between the SFN, White Rock and the City of Surrey.

We have lately seen the bitter byproducts of divisiveness, and ignorance of history, both south of the border and elsewhere in B.C. and across Canada. Let us hope that, going forward, the peoples of the Semiahmoo Peninsula can provide a beacon for a better way.

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