The City of Surrey has once again shown their cards and their commitment, or lack thereof, towards addressing and dismantling racism within the city.
After we spent the summer lobbying the City of Surrey to step up and condemn and actively dismantle anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in Surrey, the City is yet again in hot water after voting against a verbal acknowledgment at meetings that Surrey was founded on the unceded traditional territories of the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen, Musqueam, Qayqayt, Tsleil Waututh and Tsawwassen First Nations.
City Councillor Jack Hundial, who raised the motion at a council meeting on Monday, January 11, says he was “shocked & disappointed,” that the motion was defeated, after Mayor Doug McCallum and the rest of his fellow Safe Surrey Coalition councillors voted against it.
The motion, which Hundial later shared to Twitter, proposed that “The City of Surrey develop a respectful and meaningful acknowledgement before every council and committee meeting of our commitment as a city to reconciliation and in recognition that the land that we are on is traditional territory of the Coast Salish people.”
One of the councillors who voted against the motion was Coun. Laurie Guerra, who told Global News in an email that she has “a problem legislating speech.”
“The city already has a comprehensive Indigenous engagement policy,” she added.
After the vote, The City of Surrey went radio silent once again, evading responsibility and meaningful dialogue by avoiding the conversation altogether.
Ironically, the City also posted about Black Shirt Day, and Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, to “[recognize] the struggle for civil rights fought by Black and racialized Canadians.”
According to the City’s Facebook page, they “encourage residents to combat racism within our communities.”
Well, if the city is keen on encouraging residents to combat racism within our communities, they need not look further than the chambers of their own council for a place to start.
If the politicians elected by the City to enact change are the ones actively impeding it, and not just maintaining the status quo but working against progress by failing to even meet the bare minimum in conversations regarding reconciliation, it is a symbol of how far we have yet to go.
It is an extension of colonial violence to outright refuse to acknowledge the fact that the land on which we -- including the councillors and our Mayor who voted this motion down -- are all privileged to live, work and play -- is unceded Indigenous territory.
While it is true that without meaningful action and engagement with Indigenous communities, land acknowledgements can be purely performative, they are also just a place to start.
Land acknowledgements are not the end of the conversation, but they are merely the first step in conversations about reconciliation. We need our politicians to commit to more than just empty words if we are wanting to at least begin a process of reconciling our relationship to the land and Indigenous people who were displaced in its name.
According to Indigenous based arts and culture group “Meztli Projects” “practicing land acknowledgments can help us begin a process of reconciling how the majority of our existence is a continual displacement of Indigenous Peoples.”
In addition, while the city has committed to actively addressing racism it seems that they may have missed the memo, especially if we look at who was assigned to the job.
The decision becomes even more disappointing when we recall that over the summer after members of the 5X Festival team delivered a presentation to the City of Surrey’s Social Equity and Diversity Committee, the council voted at a July 27 Regular Council meeting to “acknowledge that systemic racism exists in Surrey and its institutions and initiate a process to address racism by requesting that the Social Equity and Diversity Committee, in collaboration with staff, develop Terms of Reference for a Committee approved Task Force with the mandate to consider the issue of systemic racism in the City institution by October 15, 2020," said the City of Surrey's Administrative Assistant in an email correspondence with 5X Festival.
In an update via email, the Administrative Assistant also noted that at a “December 7 Regular Council – Public Hearing meeting, the Social Equity and Diversity Committee was disbanded and a new committee, the Community Services Committee, was created. Social Planning staff are currently preparing a memo for Councillor Elford, the chair of that new committee, outlining the projects of the Social Equity and Diversity Committee, including the Anti-Racism Task Force.”
Councillor Elford, the chair of the new committee that was created to address racism in the city was one of the Councillors that voted against Councillor Hundial’s land acknowledgement.
A representative from the City said they were “unable to advise what direction Council will take with the Anti-Racism Task Force.”
For starters, if the Anti-Racism task force is taking suggestions from the public, it may be beneficial to start by asking the chair of the committee how they plan to dismantle anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in the council itself.
5X Festival reached out to both Councillor Hundial and Councillor Elford for comment, but did not hear back prior to publication.
About the Author: Rumneek Johal is a journalist, blogger and podcaster, and Editor of 5X Press. She thinks she's funny on twitter @rumneeek