'We're put first again': Why swearing in a new B.C. premier on Musqueam territory matters

David Eby will be sworn in as premier at the Musqueam Community Centre on Friday. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
David Eby will be sworn in as premier at the Musqueam Community Centre on Friday. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

David Eby was sworn in as B.C.'s 37th premier on Friday — and was the first to do so on Musqueam Indian Band territory.

The Musqueam Community Centre, on the nation's land southwest of Vancouver, was chosen as the venue for the ceremony over the traditional location of Government House in Victoria.

"I am excited to be taking this important step close to home where my family and the people who have always supported me live," Eby said ahead of the ceremony in a news release.

After being officially sworn in, Eby said the ceremony is a symbol of the partnership the province will have with all First Nations across B.C. in future.

The ceremony had originally been planned for Government House, but CBC News later learned the venue was unavailable on Nov 18.

It kicked off with traditional singing and drumming followed by remarks from Chief Wayne Sparrow.

"Today is an historic day," he said.

"It's so heartwarming and exciting for First Nations, not just Musqueam, to be able to, for the first time in B.C., have our premier sworn here in our community of Musqueam."

He also thanked outgoing premier John Horgan for his dedication to B.C. and First Nations throughout the province.

"It would be foolish of me not to acknowledge and give him a hand for all the wonderful work he has done."

The Musqueam then held a blanket ceremony, offering comfort and support to Eby as he takes on this new role.

'This means something'

Former Musqueam chief Gail Sparrow, Wayne Sparrow's sister, said holding the swearing-in on Musqueam land demonstrates that Eby will be a champion for Indigenous rights.

"It's a great honour for us because now we're put first again," she said. "We're First Nations. We should be put first on the issues with our lands and our development and also in our partnership we have with the government and the people of British Columbia."

She said the choice of venue was Eby's idea.

A land acknowledgement is commonly made at the start of B.C. government events, recognizing the people whose land the event is held on — a practice many have called meaningless if the words don't come with action.

"They're just words. They don't mean anything," Gail Sparrow said.

"This means something," she added, referring to Friday's ceremony.

On Thursday, Horgan said his greatest achievement during his time in office was the passing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) into B.C. law.

Sparrow said she believes Eby will continue, and improve upon, the NDP government's commitment to reconciliation.

"I think David is going to finally show for us that he's going to live up to his word of recognizing reconcili-action," she said. "All too often these leaders get in and they talked the talk, but they don't want to walk to walk."

Indigenous Olympic bid

Indigenous relations with the B.C. government were recently strained when the province decided it would not support a bid to bring the 2030 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games back to B.C., where four First Nations, including the Musqueam, were hoping to host them.

The province said it would be too costly to bring the Winter Olympics to B.C.

At the time Chief Sparrow expressed his disappointment at the government's decision, saying it "squashes" the bid.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

The leaders of the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations had requested to meet with Eby, a request that was denied.

Gail Sparrow believes Eby will eventually meet with Indigenous leaders regarding the Olympics, but said he needs to be installed as premier first.

"We have the infrastructure here. We can have [the Olympics] again and it should be Indigenized," she said.