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Oak Bay poised to phase in reconciliation work with Songhees, Esquimalt Nations

Mayor tasked with appointing councillors to start prep work
The stone monument overlooking Loon Bay in Oak Bay is part of a First Nations monument walking tour in the community. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)

Coun. Esther Paterson is pleased with the temperate path of her motion to move toward the hard work of reconciliation with local First Nations.

Oak Bay lies on traditional pre-contact land of the Lekwungen peoples known today as the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. Early this year Paterson asked council to have staff refresh the history page on the district’s website to reflect the true history of the area and acknowledge the treatment of the people whose lands we occupy, create a website placeholder for notices of events and resources that support strengthening the relationship with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, and have the mayor appoint a task force to make recommendations for collaborating on building paths to reconciliation in a manner respectful to First Nations resource capacity.

READ ALSO: Proposed task force would build paths in a manner respectful to First Nations’ resources

Last month, council agreed to have staff craft terms of reference for a potential task force.

Staff came back March 28 with a phased approach, in part because the district has not yet hired its First Nations advisor who would serve as liaison and be the expert on the subject. The vacancy creates a resourcing and capacity challenge, the staff report reads.

The recommended approach would start with Mayor Kevin Murdoch appointing two councillors as liaisons to do early prep work, with input from local nations and district staff.

They would create a preliminary report to serve as a community resource. It would be posted to the district’s website and summarize a community inventory of local groups, efforts and initiatives underway in support of truth and reconciliation and relationship building with Indigenous peoples. They would also develop a supplementary summary report identifying potential opportunities for Oak Bay to support, partner on or lead initiatives. Both documents would be referred to the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations for their perspective and advice on possible next steps.

READ ALSO: Oak Bay may revisit history and how it’s presented in parks

Paterson said she recognized shared learning and understanding isn’t consistent across all groups in the community and agreed it’s worthwhile to take a phased approach – with a task force as a longer-term goal.

She noted her preference that the heritage liaison – a role she has filled in the past and is now held by Coun. Andrew Appleton – be appointed one of the liaison positions.

Murdoch said he’d take the comment and others around the table into account and hopes to appoint councillors quickly.

The move comes almost exactly a year after Oak Bay endorsed a motion to add Lekwungen names to community spaces. In March 2021, Coun. Cairine Green presented the idea of adding Lekwungen place names in the community. She noted at the time, it’s critical to be respectful in the process and take cues from the nations involved.

A couple of other projects have come up in the interim.

READ ALSO: Songhees, Oak Bay embark on shared knowledge project for popular beach

The district compiled a record of monuments in the community that reference pre-colonial uses of the traditional lands and wording on each monument, after a motion from Appleton kicked off an information-gathering quest for staff. The plan is to engage with the Songhees and Esquimalt nations to review wording and appropriateness.

In mid-March, Oak Bay and Songhees Nation announced the Sitchanalth/Willows Shared Knowledge Project – a shared approach to developing a vision of the Sitchanalth, widely known as Willows Beach and Willows Beach Park.

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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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