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Surrey councillor ‘disappointed’ after council denies motion to acknowledge Indigenous lands

Click to play video 'Motion turned down by Surrey Council to recognize Indigenous land' Motion turned down by Surrey Council to recognize Indigenous land
Surrey councillor Jack Hundial says he's shocked and disappointed in council for turning down a motion last night to recognize Indigenous land. – Jan 12, 2021

A Surrey city councillor says he’s “shocked and disappointed” after a majority of his colleagues shot down his motion to officially acknowledge the Indigenous lands that council holds its meetings on.

Coun. Jack Hundial introduced his motion Monday night that sought to begin every council meeting by recognizing the city’s commitment to reconciliation and that “the land we are on is the traditional territory of the Coast Salish people.”

The motion was defeated after Mayor Doug McCallum and the rest of his fellow Safe Surrey Coalition councillors voted against it.

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“It’s really a progressive step in the right direction, and honestly it’s the right thing to do,” Hundial told Global News Tuesday.

“We’re beginning a new year here. Let’s be progressive, let’s step forward, you know, in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s a good thing to do and to be recognized for.”

Hundial said his fellow councillors who are not part of the Safe Surrey Coalition were in agreement about the motion and voted in favour, only to be outvoted by McCallum’s slim majority.

Coun. Laurie Guerra told Global News in an email that she has “a problem legislating speech.”

“The city already has a comprehensive Indigenous engagement policy,” she added.

Read more: UBC student’s project translates COVID-19 information to world’s Indigenous languages

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Hundial said he was “taken aback with the commentary” from those councillors, including one unnamed councillor’s question to Hundial about the motion’s “authenticity.” He added that the motion was first introduced to council in December, but did not hear any concerns then.

Recognizing traditional Indigenous lands has become a common practice for many other local governments, including Vancouver.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry have also made it a practice to acknowledge unceded Indigenous territory during their regular COVID-19 briefings. Federal politicians including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have done the same during their own events in recent years.

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Hundial says it’s long past time for Surrey to do the same.

“To say they don’t want to be mandating it, you really need to dial it back and think, ‘OK, look, the United Nations have come out and said it, the federal government, provincial and local governments are starting to do it. … It’s a simple acknowledgement, but it’s respectful,'” he said.

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The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which has been adopted by both the B.C. and Canadian governments, urges states to acknowledge and recognize that their forebears occupied unceded Indigenous territories as one of many actions toward reconciliation.

Coun. Brenda Locke joined Hundial in expressing disappointment with her colleagues’ votes on Twitter while also pointing to the language in UNDRIP.

Global News has reached out to McCallum’s office and the rest of the Safe Surrey Coalition councillors for comment on Hundial’s motion.

Requests for comment from multiple Indigenous groups, including the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, were also not returned Tuesday. But Hundial is encouraging them to speak out about the council vote.

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“I think it’s a question for them to ask and also perhaps to circle back to council and ask, ‘what was the reason for not doing it?’ I’d be very interested to know that,” he said.

“For me, I found it hurtful. And I can certainly expect (Indigenous) individuals would find it probably quite hurtful as well.”

— With files from Janet Brown

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