“We invite you to search in your own traditions and beliefs, and those of your ancestors, to find these core values that create a peaceful harmonious society and a healthy earth.” This invitation in the closing words of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was extended by Indigenous elders. The core value of my personal tradition and beliefs is the democratic principle of citizens taking responsibility to govern their own community.
The elders’ invitation calls on us to find a process by which our two cultures, Indigenous and non-indigenous, could govern the community we share with a view to “create a peaceful harmonious society and a healthy earth.” Recent discoveries on the grounds of former residential schools have added urgency for us to summon the political courage needed to embrace the elders’ invitation with a measure of audacity.
Does our community have the wherewithal to marshal such political courage? That may be questionable in view of the paltry voter turnout in the recent municipal by-election. If we join the renewed focus on the residential school history and our contemptible by-election turn-out – two political failures, albeit vastly disparate in scale and consequences – together on one political agenda, the two topics may open a door to promising community action.
We could ask the provincial government to enact legislation to designate two seats on our municipal council as Indigenous seats to be contested by members of the Indigenous community. The idea is not to set up Indigenous wards. The two Indigenous council members would be serving, and be accountable to, the entire community. Nothing would change for voters. We – Indigenous and non-indigenous voters alike – would continue to vote for one mayor and six councillors. The only change would be that at least two Indigenous candidates would be assured a seat on council.
Nothing would change at the community level; the community would remain what it is, a blend of two cultures. The difference would be that our two principal cultures would be represented on city council. Two Indigenous members of Council; either mayor and one councillor or two councillors, would be a minimum. An election could result in non-indigenous candidates losing out to Indigenous candidates with fewer votes. That would be a sign of reconciliation in progress. It could also happen that voters, two-thirds of whom are non-indigenous, elect more than the minimum of two Indigenous candidates. That too would be a sign of reconciliation in progress.
Legislation to promote reconciliation in the City of Terrace would not be a precedent. There are precedents for legislation focused on unique needs for designated communities: the Vancouver Charter, the Resort Municipality of Whistler Act, the Resort Association Act, and the Sechelt Indian Government District Enabling Act.
Reconciliation is not an academic exercise. Reconciliation is the process of learning to appreciate and respect cultural distinctions when framing solutions to common problems. Reconciliation is the process of making a habit of working together. Legislation to assign two of the seven seats on our municipal council to citizens from our Indigenous community would be a meaningful affirmation that our community is located on unceded territory. It would elevate our municipal council to be the arena for the pursuit of meaningful reconciliation where community values are developed with a respect for the unique core values treasured by Indigenous and non-indigenous cultures respectively.