Village of Kaslo staff have apologized for raising the village hall flag back to full mast, and will take steps to learn more about reconciliation with First Nations in Canada.
The moves come after council stepped into controversy again over reconciliation with First Nations and the role of municipal government in that process.
A letter of complaint to council’s July 27 meeting noted that the hall flag was raised back to full height just before Canada Day. It had been lowered to half-mast to mark the discovery of the unmarked graves of more than 200 residential school students in Kamloops earlier this summer.
Flags at federal, provincial and other institutions have remained at half-mast since the discovery, even over the July national holiday.
“While flags remain lowered outside of the RCMP and post offices, the Village office raised their flag once again. The cruel insensitivity of this act is incomprehensible to me,” wrote local resident Susan Chamberlain to council.
Sometime before July 1, the flagpole cord was cut, and the flag removed.
While some, including the mayor, criticized the move at the time, council backtracked and apologized for the gaffe at its July 27 meeting.
“The staff had the mistaken understanding that officially flags were to be flown at half-mast for the four days of national mourning to recognize the discovery of mass graves in Kamloops,” said Mayor Suzan Hewat in explaining the reason behind the motion.
“There was no formal communication that it was to be a longer period to recognize the number of graves, and they apologize for that misunderstanding,” said Hewat. “It was nothing intentional.”
‘Want to see a beginning and end’
But Councillor Henry Van Mill said he wondered when the flags were going to be allowed back up again.
“What dates are we looking at here?” asked Henry Van Mill. “I’d like to see a beginning and end, so we’re all on the same page.”
Staff said it would be 215 days, based on the number of graves found in Kamloops.
Later in the meeting, the mayor indicated she also had concerns on keeping the flag at half-mast for too long.
“To have it down for that length of time – this is my personal opinion, and it is not speaking on behalf of council – but there are other instances where the community may be asked to lower our flag. If it is [already] lowered, how can we recognize other times?”
Council approved purchasing a new flag to replace the stolen one, and went beyond that, approving a motion to install six orange lights at Legacy Park to honour the children at the Kamloops school, and other residential school victims across Canada during the period of mourning.
Van Mill also questioned a second motion, calling for Village staff to research how the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action affect municipal government.
“Is this really something that belongs on this table? …” he asked. “Staff is already overworked. Now we have one problem on top of another problem. This is something the big guys in Ottawa should deal with.”
That suggestion was quickly shot down by fellow councillor Molly Leathwood.
“It is part of the Truth and Reconciliation document that municipalities do honour the commission and their calls to action for all municipalities,” she said. “So it absolutely does belong on the table.”
In fact, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has over a dozen recommendations directed towards municipal government. Those include educating staff on Indigenous issues and history, reforming bylaws that carry colonial legacies, applying UNDRIP principles to policy and land issues, committing to relationship building with Indigenous government, and getting informed consent to development projects.
The commission also called on municipalities to commemorate the gravesites of missing residential school students.
Council directed staff to report back on UNDRIP for the August council meeting.
It’s not the first time council has been mired in controversy over issues surrounding race in the last year.
In summer 2020, council changed the wording on a provincial anti-racism proclamation to remove specific references to Black, Indigenous and persons of colour, only backtracking after being widely criticized.
Earlier this year, it struggled over the issue of a land acknowledgement, finally leaving it up to committee chairs whether to read a declaration recognizing Indigenous title at the start of their meetings.