Surrey council rejects motion for Indigenous land acknowledgements at meetings
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum speaks to reporters on Dec. 4, 2018. (File image)
VANCOUVER -- A motion to have Surrey city council make an Indigenous land acknowledgement ahead of every meeting was narrowly defeated this week in a 5-4 vote.
Coun. Jack Hundial proposed the motion, which called for acknowledging the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people as one piece of Surrey's "commitment to reconciliation."
It was supported by several councillors, including Brenda Locke, who noted such acknowledgements are already routine at Vancouver city council and Metro Vancouver board meetings.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix also acknowledge the Songees and Esquimalt First Nation at every COVID-19 briefing out of Victoria.
The City of Surrey does officially acknowledge the traditional territories of the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen, Qayqayt and Tsawwassen First Nations, according to the website of its Urban Indigenous Strategy.
But members of Mayor Doug McCallum's Safe Surrey Coalition still voted to reject Hundial's motion, including Coun. Laurie Guerra, who expressed concerns about "legislating speech."
"I don't know how we would enforce it if it wasn't done," Guerra said during Monday's council meeting. "If we want to make an Indigenous acknowledgement before the meeting then we certainly should, but I don't think we should be forced to and therefor I will not be supporting this motion."
Her concerns were echoed by Coun. Doug Elford.
McCallum also argued that officials already do enough by making land acknowledgements at city events.
"They like to be recognized at each event that's in Surrey and that's the way Surrey has been for 12 years," said McCallum, who made multiple references to having three grandchildren who are First Nations. "I'm not going to support (the motion) not because I don't think it's right, but because I think we're doing an excellent job currently."
Posting on social media after the vote, Hundial said he was "shocked" and "disappointed" by council's decision.
"As my father told (us) growing up, 'never walk away from the right thing,'" Hundial wrote. "This IS the right thing."