Indigenous issues in B.C. and Terrace are important and complex. Historic treatment of Indigenous peoples has resulted in socioeconomic inequality, over-representation in the correctional system and other social and health impacts that reverberate through generations.
The Terrace city council byelection was triggered when Jessica McCallum-Miller — the city’s first Indigenous councillor — resigned in February, citing systemic racism and her feelings that reconciliation was not a priority for council.
“It is my personal belief that systemic and internalized racism as well as sexism had played a role in the inability of my colleagues to respect and understand my personal and diverse perspectives,” McCallum-Miller said in a Feb. 22 Facebook post addressed to the City of Terrace announcing her resignation.
The Terrace Standard asked each of the byelection candidates what the city can do to address racism in Terrace, and further reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
Alex Pietralla said that in his current position on Hatch’s global diversity and inclusion committee, he has worked hard to ensure that everyone in the company feels safe, supported and that there are diversity of thoughts at the table. He said that education and awareness is key to fostering reconciliation.
“Once you go through these unconscious bias trainings, you open your mind up towards the conditions that other people live under, or live in, or some of the struggles that they face,” he said.
Pietralla led a campaign last year for National Indigenous People’s Day, where he collected recipes from Indigenous people around Canada and compiled them into a cookbook. He said that he believes reconciliation starts with awareness.
“Cultural awareness, at the end of the day, brings people pride in who they are, and sharing that pride leads to direct actions, where people work towards and like to work with each other.”
He did acknowledge, being from Germany, that reconciliation takes education in the school system and time.
“That’s exactly what we did in Germany, with our reconciliation with the Jewish people. We’ve been doing reconciliation in our country for 80 years, and quite frankly, it’s something that that will take a long time or take generations to overcome,” he said.
“But I’m very, very hopeful that the momentum that we have in the country now is something that truly closes the gap.”
Amandeep Singh Saini said that McCallum-Miller’s resignation was the reason he decided to run for a position on council.
“The angle I am coming from is from diversity and inclusion, that we definitely have to have a diverse council and me being from a visible minority, I think I should get into council and represent minority voices, or diverse voices,” he said.
“That’s the reason I opted for election. When [McCallum-Miller] resigned, and I heard about it, I was like, ‘no, this shouldn’t happen, this wasn’t the reason she should go,’ so if this happened, we should address it.”
Saini said that as someone interested in the city, the best way for him to truly know and work to solve issues around systemic racism is to get involved as a councillor.
“Instead of commenting or responding to it, or reacting to it, let me be the candidate and see firsthand, I will have a first hand experience of it, why it happened in the first place…so the only way to know about it is to get into it.”
Dave Gordon said that Terrace is home to a diversity of First Nations cultures that are as rich as anywhere in the world, and it is important to bring that to the forefront by celebrating it through public art.
“We’re planning more First Nations sculptures and murals this year, truly differentiating our community from others, and public art stands as a testament to First Nations culture saying we are here and we’re proud to be here, and it should last for generations.”
Gordon is also an advocate of seeing the Sm’algyax language embraced in Terrace, which he says would not be overly difficult to do.
“Kitsumkalum has a stop sign with a Sm’algyax word for stop on it, and everybody stops at that octagonal sign even if they can’t pronounce or don’t fully understand the word, that’s not complicated. We could have a ‘welcome to Terrace’ sign in Sm’algyax. We can have some street names in Sm’algyax,” he said.
“Simple work, you just need to engage the right people in our communities, to guide us along a path that’s appropriate and find the right words.”
Joely Viveiros said that cultural sensitivity training is critical for council to be able to further the goals of reconciliation going forward.
“They called the ombudsman, but I’m not sure how that was going to help things, I think that the council should have some sensitivity to, or at least some understanding of what Indigenous people are asking for or, and what they actually are responsible to do,” she said.
With regards to reconciliation, it’s not like ‘maybe we should or it would be nice to do this,’ actually, Bill 41 (Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People’s Act) has been put forth.”
“They really have a responsibility to consult with, and understand the Indigenous heritage and Indigenous people within their communities.”
The Kitsumkalum and Kitselas First Nations are very close to the City of Terrace geographically, and the Nisga’a Nation is located north of the city. There are links between Terrace and each of those communities in various ways. Each byelection candidate offered their thoughts on the state of Terrace’s relationships with those nations and how relationships can be strengthened.
Viveiros said that communication is one of the most important aspects that needs to happen for a strong relationship.
“No matter what they do, [the city] should be speaking with their neighbours because it’s part of living on Indigenous land it’s part of having Indigenous neighbours, it’s just respectful to have those conversations with your leaders,” she said.
“There should be a vision with Indigenous people and around them and I’m not entirely sure that is happening at the level that it should be happening, so I think that’s the next step.”
Amandeep Singh Saini agreed that communication needs to improve between the city and Indigenous communities.
“Either there is a communication gap or the interested parties are not given confidence that they are not told or communicated better about the ideas, so on both ends, there is a communication gap that must be mitigated before we proceed,” he said.
“It’s not that I have a perspective and I should enforce it on other, but I think about the perspective of the second party as well, how they think and where they coming from, then we can think of mitigating the gap.
Only having one perspective and acting upon it is not a good idea always.”
Alex Pietralla said that one way to build relationships is to work on tangible projects together.
“One is how do we connect Kitsumkalum and the City of Terrace better? We have the Millennium trail, where does the City of Terrace city limits end, how much further is Kitsumkalum.
Is there an idea, can we do something about extending the Millennium Trail all the way to Kitsumkalum,” he said.
“If we create a summit team and a group of people from the First Nations and the city to come up with ideas that are tangible, then reconciliation can result from that.
Because when people start working together, become friends, and ge to know how somebody else works with you then you create a level of communication.”
Dave Gordon also agrees that communication could be improved, which is something that will be easier once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
“It really comes by developing relationships with people in local governments, and I’m not sure that we’ve put in a whole lot of effort in that regard. Councillors could reach out to other councillors and bands and just start developing a relationship, understanding each other’s issues,” he said.
“I hope to be able to attend council meetings at Kitsumkalum and Kitselas, which I’ve done before, when I’m moving projects forward, where they have an interest. They are a very welcoming people, council meetings are typically open, and I’ve learned quite a bit by going to those meetings.”