When should First Nations be recognized?

Regional District of Nanaimo directors debate whether it should be at every meeting

The Regional District of Nanaimo makes a point of recognizing the fact that they operate on the traditional territories of local First Nations, but debate ran hot and heavy Tuesday night about how often they should do it.

Speaking at the regular RDN board meeting, Gabriola director Howard Houle called on the board to recognize the traditional territory of First Nations at the opening of all board meetings, standing and select committee meetings. As well, he called on district staff to consult with local First Nations to find wording suitable for First Nations protocol.

“I go to quite a few meetings and we always recognize First Nations,” Houle said. “This is one of the few places that I go where we don’t.”

That didn’t sit well with City of Nanaimo director George Anderson.

“I’m not in favour of this,” he said. “I think saying that at every single committee and board meeting would take any value away from it,” he said.

Coombs director Julian Fell agreed.

“If you do it at every meeting and every time we come together, it’s like wallpaper. It should be reserved for special events,” he said.

A suggestion by City of Nanaimo director Diane Brennan to make the declaration only at special meetings drew a caution from CAO Paul Thorkelson, who suggested it might prove difficult to determine which are special meetings and which are not.

City of Nanaimo director Jim Kipp suggested having a special meeting to which local First Nations are invited and installing a plaque, instead. This idea sat well with Fell, who noted that while one of the feature walls in the board room has a giant RDN logo, the other, facing feature wall contains only an emergency light.

“We should have something just as big on this wall from the local First Nations,” he said.

When it came time to vote, Houle’s motion went down in defeat. However, his second motion, to consult with First Nations about protocols regarding the issue, passed unanimously.