White Rock resident Susan Lindenberger speaks to council Monday. (City of White Rock screenshot)

Civic divide in White Rock over First Nation relations

Citing multiple sources, councillor asks if there’s a directive to not invite Semiahmoo to events

White Rock council could not escape the topic of the city’s relationship with Semiahmoo First Nation on Monday.

It’s a relationship that has been under closer scrutiny since it was revealed that SFN had been invited to open the first annual White Rock Buskers Festival on May 5, then subsequently uninvited with the explanation that no opening event was to be held. (Mayor Wayne Baldwin has since attributed the incident to a volunteer with the festival’s organizing committee mistakenly issuing a premature invitation).

Monday afternoon, council’s governance and legislation committee took its first look at terms of reference for a new committee of council – the intergovernmental and First Nation affairs committee – established by Baldwin, partly in response to the controversy, to examine protocols for relationships with all other government bodies.

At the regular evening meeting, council was on the receiving end of a lecture from resident Susan Lindenberger – appearing as a delegation – on the importance of good relations with SFN.

Noting that there had been a formal closing event for the buskers’ festival, Lindenberger said that “both protocol and courtesy would have been met to have Chief (Harley) Chappell appear then.

“It is hard to see withdrawing the invitation to Chief Chappell as anything other than a gross lack of cultural sensitivity, if not gratuitous rudeness,” she added.

But the capper came later in the meeting when Coun. Helen Fathers – during discussion of her motion before council to issue a resolution inviting the SFN to all city events – charged that a committee to organize the upcoming Concerts at the Pier series, a partnership between the city and the White Rock BIA sponsored by TD Bank, had been told that SFN was specifically “not invited to any of the events this year.”

“That is a pretty strong comment, and that is really where my motion came from,” Fathers said. “Either I have been given incorrect information, or that meeting happened.”

“Mr. Bottrill, this is news to me,” said Baldwin, addressing chief administrative officer Dan Bottrill. “Did somebody say something?”

“When all of this blew up, so to speak, I did have an opportunity to talk to BIA president Ernie Klassen,” Bottrill answered, “just to point out that this was a partnership, that this was a city event, being held in our city, and as I believe most of council would know… the protocol for any kind of city event, to invite any kind of senior government official, including a chief of a First Nation, should be coming from the mayor’s office, and so that was made abundantly clear.”

“It’s not that the invitation hasn’t come from the mayor’s office, it’s that the BIA was specifically informed not to invite them,” Fathers responded. “I want to know if that is accurate or not, because that’s the information that came (to) me from two BIA members, a member of staff and two people that were in that meeting. They were informed that the SFN were not invited and that came from the city.”

“Mr. Bottrill can look at it, and let you know what’s going on,” Baldwin told Fathers, adding there had “not been a problem” before the festival incident.

“It’s been crazy,” Baldwin said. “It’s a non-event, but people have blown it up into something really big and it is really very minor. Somebody made a mistake, and it wasn’t staff, it wasn’t any member of council. There was a mistake made – end of story. So let’s get over it and let’s move on with this. There’s a process in place, let’s follow the process.”

Council subsequently supported a motion by Coun. Grant Meyer to refer Fathers’ motion, which asked for a resolution that SFN “be invited to participate in all ceremonies with the City of White Rock events” to the intergovernmental and First Nation affairs committee.

“Why rush it with a knee-jerk reaction when we’re forming a whole committee to address all these and other issues?” Meyer told council before the vote.

But Fathers, who, along with Coun. David Chesney, voted against Meyer’s motion, later told Peace Arch News she saw no point in moving the issue from council to a committee composed of all members and then back to council.

And she said she was still waiting for an answer to her question on whether a directive specifically excluding the SFN had been issued – “either it happened or it didn’t.”

Meyer – the only other councillor to speak to Fathers’ motion – told PAN the new committee is the best place to discuss inviting SFN to city events.

“I get that Helen wanted to do something now and make a splash,” he said. “Nobody said they didn’t want (to invite SFN). Nobody was against it, per se. I just said let’s move it to a committee who can look at things thoroughly.”

At the earlier governance committee meeting, Bottrill had told council that staff will prepare information for the intergovernmental and First Nation affairs committee that will include “best practices” for city protocols in dealing with different government bodies.

In establishing the committee, Baldwin has said protocols are complicated by the fact that four other First Nations claim land now occupied by White Rock.

But in her delegation to council, Lindenberger referred to the current OCP, which “acknowledges that the Semiahmoo are the original inhabitants of the land we occupy, land that has never been ceded by treaty.”

She also criticized what she called “a lack of mutual understanding, open communication, of good-will and care,” referencing “a tit-for-tat over access to water services” in 2016 and the groundbreaking ceremony for the rebuilding of Memorial Park, halted last fall due to what she described as “failed consultation with the Semiahmoo.”

In addition to asking council to endorse Fathers’ motion, Lindenberger recommended that council contact the provincial Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation to “request a resource person to help build historically-based understanding, sensitivity and a better relationship with our neighbour, (the SFN).”

She suggested council issue a formal apology to Chappell and the SFN for “the current damaged relationship, and express a willingness to work towards better relations.”

In response, Baldwin told Lindenberger that the new committee had been struck to address such issues and that consultations with SFN are ongoing.

But Baldwin said he did not think a formal apology was necessary.

“I don’t want to embarrass anybody,” he said. “Be patient. Things will happen, things will get better.

“I’m thinking that you probably get most of your information from the papers, and I’m thinking, therefore, that you’re getting a biased and untrue picture of what’s happening… I can assure you that the relationship is moving along,” he added. “We do have some issues, yes, but we’re working on fixing those issues.”

In an email to PAN following the meeting, Lindenberger wrote she had “restrained” herself from responding to Baldwin.

“I did not depend entirely on ‘the media’ for information,” she writes. “As for apologies, most kindergartners know that if you invite someone to a party and then tell them not to come, an apology is due.”

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