Surrey councillor 'shocked' colleagues voted down Indigenous land acknowledgement

·2 min read

Surrey Councillor Jack Hundial said he was "shocked and surprised" that the city's mayor, Doug McCallum, and the Safe Surrey Coalition councillors denied his motion Monday evening to begin every council meeting with an Indigenous land acknowledgement.

The motion sought for council to recognize "the land we are on is the traditional territory of the Coast Salish people" — a simple step, Hundial said, toward bettering the city's relationship with Indigenous communities.

Hundial told the CBC that he feels a formal land acknowledgement is "just the right thing to do," and he found the motion's denial "a bit of an affront."

'Legislating speech'

Councillor Laurie Guerra said she voted the motion down because she believes the city already has a comprehensive Indigenous engagement policy and that she has "a problem with legislating speech."

"If we want to make an Indigenous acknowledgement before a meeting we certainly should, but I don't think that we should be forced to," she explained.

Mayor Doug McCallum did not respond to CBC's request for comment.

Hundial said the notice of motion was brought forth just before Christmas giving the rest of council time to consider it. During Monday's meeting, he was surprised that a few councillors simply kept silent and voted no while others questioned his motives for bringing it to council.

"We need to talk about our equity [and] our past ... I don't see how this could be a contentious issue," said Hundial, referencing heightened conversations on racial equality the past year in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and Indigenous demonstrations in Canada.

'Some people feel threatened'

Bob Joseph, the president of Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., a company that helps people work effectively with Indigenous people, said that in light of the country's recent adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples, many people are struggling with changes underway in Canada when it comes to race.

Joseph said a land acknowledgement is a simple step toward reconciliation but "some people feel threatened by it, because they don't understand it."

He added that acknowledging Indigenous lands is a powerful, decolonizing tool and is a way for people who may not fully understand reconciliation to say they're prepared to reach out and try to do something together.

Hundial said he's glad that he at least put the issue on council's radar.