Vancouver Island Daily - Opinion Piece on Reconciliation

Vancouver Island Daily - Opinion Piece on Reconciliation

February 28, 2017

Vancouver Island Daily - Guest Opinion

Reconciliation is about building relationships, so let's start building

When you think of local government services and responsibilities, the first things that come to mind are likely images of water flowing from your tap, roads and bridges you cross on your way to work or the garbage cart you haul out to the curb each week. But what about all those intangible things that make your neighbourhood and community not just healthy and clean, but a safe, pleasant and welcoming place for you and your family?

Collaboration, support, respect and inclusion – there are many bits and pieces that we hold as values and principles that form part of the fabric of our communities.  While these aren’t services provided like garbage collection, they are shared responsibilities that all citizens and governments hold together.

With this year marking our country’s 150th anniversary of confederation, it serves as an opportunity to ensure these and other Canadian values are strengthened and held for all segments of our society, not just the dominant ones.  

You don’t have to look far for reminders that this remains a work in progress for our country – news reports of racially motivated violence, vandalism and graffiti, although rare, shed light on an intolerance seemingly just under the surface.   

The roots of these issues stretch right back to our country’s founding and our treatment of minorities, particularly aboriginal people.  European colonists rationalized the appropriation of lands, the prohibition of cultural practices and the abduction of children as a way to “civilize”. These injustices carried on for decades, attempting to force the assimilation of aboriginal people by systematically disrupting families, communities, language and culture.

Here in Port Alberni, this dark history and perspective was uncovered recently with the consideration of changing a school and a city street named in recognition of an historical Member of Parliament that once advocated for such initiatives.  The public discourse that followed highlighted the tensions that still remain in our country and the shared responsibility we all have to learn the history and legacy of Canada’s residential schools and other similar policies.

The “we know best” mindset of some of the early settlers and colonists was instrumental in bringing these historical polices forward, the effects of which are still evident in our contemporary society.  Consultation and the incorporation of aboriginal perspectives are only now being widely considered in government, resource development and other sectors.

In recent years, many communities across the country have undertaken projects and programs in an effort to establish a new, more respectful relationship with First Nations.  With reconciliation being a process of relationship building, our city has determined that we’ll do just that – build on our relationship.  By engaging with First Nations on their perspectives on community issues and local actions of reconciliation, we hope to move forward together in ways that are meaningful, purposeful and long lasting. This dialogue may ultimately result in actions to educate, to commemorate, to recognize and to possibly change certain place names. 

I’m both excited and optimistic about this work.  As a former educator for over 35 years, I’ve witnessed first-hand the improvements in content and attention to First Nations education. As Mayor, I’ve met with faith groups and business leaders who are committed to righting past wrongs and reducing the socio-economic gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal residents.

We all have different ways we can support reducing prejudice and racism in our society and, ultimately, by nurturing our shared values I think we can make those intangibles a bit more tangible for all members of our society.


Mayor Mike Ruttan
City of Port Alberni