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Squamish Nation signs 'protocol' agreements with three B.C. municipalities in four days

Vancouver, District of Squamish and City of North Vancouver ink deals with First Nation.
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Squamish Nation (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw) council chairperson Khelsilem signs a protocol agreement Tuesday with Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim in a courtyard at the Museum of Vancouver.

The Squamish Nation has signed protocol agreements with three B.C. municipalities in the space of four days in what civic politicians and band representatives have described as a significant step towards reconciliation.

The most recent signing came Tuesday at the Museum of Vancouver, where Mayor Ken Sim joined Squamish leaders in making official an agreement that city council unanimously approved July 11 in a public meeting at city hall.

“I'm incredibly humbled and honoured to be able to stand up here today,” Sim said from a lectern in the museum’s courtyard. “This is an incredibly historic day.”

Sim echoed what several city councillors said in their closing remarks last week at city hall, with Christine Boyle, Sarah Kirby-Yung and Lisa Dominato all describing the agreement as “significant.”

Dominato also spoke at Tuesday’s event, her comments focused largely on reconciliation.

“I think about reconciliation in the context most often about children,” she said.

“We know from our history and past that we wronged many children. But we have an opportunity through working together through protocols like this with Squamish Nation, through the City of Vancouver, of doing right by future children.”

The signing Tuesday followed similar ceremonies held Monday at the Totem Hall in Squamish and Saturday at the Shipyards in North Vancouver. Drumming, singing and dancing by nation members highlighted the event at the museum, which included a speech from Squamish council chairperson, Khelsilem.

“What we're doing today is the continuation of the work that was set down to us by our ancestors, our past leaders, who had always tried to move the canoe forward and with the hope that another generation would one day take it up and continue to move it forward to where we all need to get to,” he said.

Khelsilem said the agreement, which is an updated document originally signed in 2010, is another step in advancing the relationship between the nation and the city, which continues to grow and evolve.

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Squamish Nation councillor Wilson Williams and Leslha7lhamaat at Tuesday's ceremony at the Museum of Vancouver. Photo Mike Howell

'Times were different'

At city hall last week, Squamish councillor Wilson Williams explained the need to update the document, pointing out how the city didn’t adopt an UNDRIP strategy until October 2022.

“Times were different, relationships unequal,” said Williams, referring to the 2010 protocol agreement.

“Our previous memorandum of understanding and protocol agreement was written in the pre-UNDRIP era at a time where there was no acknowledgement by any government of our rights and title to the lands and the waters.”

UNDRIP is the acronym for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007. The provincial and federal governments have since passed legislation to implement UNDRIP.

The agreements with each municipality are not legally binding but intended to lay the groundwork for a memorandum of understanding with the Squamish. The document is what Khelsilem described as “high level,” with specifics to come.

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Squamish Nation drummers and dancers were part of Tuesday's ceremony at the Museum of Vancouver. Photo Mike Howell

'Young people'

The document says the objective of the agreement is to determine how the city can support the Squamish in achieving and implementing its “generational goals” for its people, government, land and waters and external relations.

After Tuesday’s ceremony, Khelsilem gave an example of what some of those goals might look like in the years to come. He said the nation can learn from the city’s administration and governance structure, including drafting bylaws and setting up permitting processes.

“We also see an opportunity for procurement and employment within the city,” he said. “We have a lot of young people that are coming out of university that we want to find employment opportunities and training opportunities and career development.”

He also pointed to Vancouver hosting some of the games in 2026 of the FIFA World Cup and the Invictus Games, which will also be played in Whistler, as opportunities for the Squamish to participate, collaborate and implement projects.

Khelsilem said the protocol agreement doesn’t directly inform the nation’s current Senakw rental housing project at the south end of the Burrard Bridge, or the redevelopment of the Jericho Lands, which involves the Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh nations.

“This is just a high-level commitment,” he said. “When we get to the next stage of this, and really identify those targeted goals, objectives and projects, that's where we're going to see some really unique advancements.”

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Vancouver city councillors, city staff and members of the Squamish Nation at Tuesday's ceremony at the Museum of Vancouver. Photo Mike Howell

More agreements to come

The city also plans to enter into protocol agreements with the Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh. At the same time, an intergovernmental task force comprised of city councillors and representatives from the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh continues to meet to put into action the city’s UNDRIP strategy.

The strategy — the first of its kind for a Canadian municipal government — proposes 79 recommendations that include returning land to the nations, creating revenue-sharing streams and having representation on the Vancouver Police Board and other agencies in the city and region.

The Squamish’s traditional territory and waters span the Lower Mainland to Howe Sound and the Squamish valley watershed. The nation, whose population is estimated at 4,300 members, also has overlapping or shared territory with the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, Katzie and Lil’wat nations.

The protocol agreements reached over the past week served as a lead-up to the Squamish preparing this month to mark its 100th year since its villages amalgamated in 1923 to form a single entity.

Khelsilem said he expects more agreements to come.

“Our goal is to do similar agreements with many other municipalities within our territory,” he said, noting there are at least 18, including Burnaby, West Vancouver, Lions Bay and Gibsons.

“Not all of them are at the same stage [as Vancouver], so we picked certain ones first that we already have a relationship with to set a precedence and inspire the other ones to come to the table, as well.”

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Squamish Nation council spokesperson Khelsilem shakes hands with Mayor Ken Sim Tuesday after signing protocol agreement. Photo Mike Howell

mhowell@glaciermedia.ca

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