What does it mean to change a street name? What does it mean to be able to fish? What does it mean to have title over the land upon which you, and your people, were born?
This line of questioning may not immediately resonate with the majority of Canadians going to the polls today, intent on electing (or re-electing) the next Prime Minister. But it matters a hell of a lot to Indigenous people, to the Musqueam Indian Band, and specifically to Wade Grant.
In this long-awaited discussion with the UBC alumnus, former Musqueam council member, 2018 Vancouver city council candidate, and current Chief of Staff to Musqueam band Chief and Council, Grant entertains some direct questions from the settlers in the room (Gord and Rob) on issues we’re still only beginning to understand in mainstream Canadian society.
Beginning with some essential background — that, first of all, First Nations peoples didn’t even gain the right to vote until 1960, they couldn’t go to university unless they gave up their status as Indian, and the residential school system which has been the source of unimaginable cruelty and injustice was alive and desperately unwell until the 1990s — Grant steps us through some of the key factors that have led Canada, and BC, to this time of reconciliation. Whatever that means.
It’s actually meant different things at different times. Perhaps it started in 1982 with Section 35 in the Constitution. There’s no question the R v Sparrow decision is part of reconciliation. In fact, any measure that has specifically supported the health and welfare of people like the Musqueam — now numbering close to 1,400 people, after the smallpox epidemic of the 1860s reduced their population from 30,000 to just 100 people — could be considered a form of reconciliation.
Or…does love belong in the process? It’s a meaningful consideration and holds some currency to Grant, in that it allows him to consider himself Canadian, even while working to forgive those who have historically ground down the rights and resolve of First Nations peoples. Love, in fact, could be one of the key factors tempering the natural inability to forget the atrocities settlers committed, or simply endorsed (either way, we’re looking at you, Joseph Trutch).
Land, of course, is the other essential factor. Grant speaks about MST Development Corporation, a partnership between the Musqueam Indian Band, Squamish Nation and Tsleil-Waututh Nation, and which fully or partially owns many valuable parcels of land in the Lower Mainland: Jericho Lands, Heather Street Lands, and the former Liquor Distribution Branch site on East Broadway in Vancouver, Marine Drive Lands in West Vancouver, and Willingdon Lands in Burnaby.
There’s the promise that all this land might make something greater than the sum of their parts, just as Grant himself represents as a product of many ethnic backgrounds. Such fabric comprises the blanket that is Confederation today.
It’s a conversation that might have promised, as Gord suggests, some quicksand and a land mine or two. Yet, perhaps thanks to Grant’s deft approach to defining and discussing reconciliation, it’s all very Canadian. Have a listen.