Chief Russell Chipps (left) of Beecher Bay First Nation, Lila Underwood, Executive Director of South Island Wellness Society, Colleen Spier, Executive Director of Island Métis Family & Community Services Society, Bill Bresser, President of the Board of Directors of Island Métis Family & Community Services Society sign a Protocol Agreement after years of a cultural misunderstanding. (File submitted/Joseph Whonnock)

Island Métis society rights long cultural misstep with Vancouver Island First Nations

Over 20 years ago the society accidentally showed disrespect to local First Nations

A cultural oversight by the Island Métis Family & Community Services Society (IMFCSS) left a sour taste for the South Island Wellness Society (SIWS), a group comprised of the Chiefs of the nine Southern Vancouver Island First Nations, for 20 years before it was fully noticed.

The IMFCSS launched in 1996 to service Métis children and families in the area. While they had all proper municipal regulations and approvals in place, no one from the Society had ever reached out to any of the surrounding First Nations for permission to work there, something that was seen as very disrespectful. This resulted in a complete lack of communication between the two societies until 2016.

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“I just didn’t understand why people don’t talk,” said Colleen Spier, who became executive director of IMFCSS in 2016. “Who knew it was from a past disrespect.”

Spier said the IMFCSS operates on the border of four different First Nations, but works with families and children of all nine.

“People don’t understand that protocol is different and unique to each Nation,” Spier explained. “You have to be somewhat humble and say you don’t know. As long as you’re open-minded and willing to learn most Nations are willing to help.”

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The IMFCSS asked how they could remedy the situation and develop a strong working relationship since there is often a lot of crossover between clients.

In 2016, a formal apology ceremony took place at the Esquimalt Longhouse, and Chiefs from the Nations asked that a Protocol Agreement be put together between both groups to ensure a respectful working relationship that appreciates the many different cultures intertwined between the two societies.

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This fall, the Protocol Agreement was presented two-years to the date of the apology during a bi-cultural ceremony at the Esquimalt Longhouse.

“I think that was a good move on their part to come forward and gift the people from this area a blanket, it’s really changed the relationships” said Lila Underwood, executive director of the South Island Wellness Society. “We talk to each other more, it’s really positive.”

Spier said the actions taken between both groups proved how effective seeking reconciliation can be.

“The step towards this reconciliation began with a question: ‘how do we correct these past wrongs?’” Spier said. “I ask that everyone uses what we have done as a demonstration of how easy it could be. Already it has had a lot of benefits; there are more ceremonies as of late acknowledging hard work people do in each other’s areas.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


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