Chants and drums of Squamish Nation singers reverberated off the walls of the 55 Activity Centre on Oct. 23, bringing an emotional edge to the last day of meetings for the current council.
It happened shortly after the town council bestowed the Freedom of the Municipality to four community members who were recognized for their contributions to Squamish.
Kiyowil (Bob Baker), Chésha7 (Gwen Harry), Humteya (Shirley Toman) and Thor Froslev were given an honour that in previous eras was called the Key to the City.
Kiyowil, Chésha7 and Humteya, all elders of the Squamish Nation, were given the accolade as a result of their efforts to shine light on the dark history of residential schools.
“We want to thank you for your courage,” said Mayor Patricia Heintzman.
All three had grown up under the system, which separated Indigenous children from their parents.
As part of an ongoing education effort, the trio have been sharing their often-emotional stories about growing up under such a regime.
“Their stories basically healed me on my journey,” said Christine Baker, a Nation member. “I stopped blaming.”
There were also particularly charged moments, such as when Squamish Nation hereditary Chief Dale Harry spoke of the federal government’s apology to residential school survivors in June 2008.
“I seen it — I seen anger in there, I seen frustration, and I seen tears when I witnessed that apology,” said Harry.
“Reconciliation — fixing of what was done wrong — and by that everything that has to be meaningful, meaning for our elders, which, thank you very much for recognizing them,” said Harry.
Mayor-elect Karen Elliott was visibly emotional and had to take a pause when speaking.
“It’s probably the biggest sense of responsibility I feel taking on the role of mayor,” said Elliott.
“Finding a way forward together that our communities recognize the strength that we have together. That when the Nation benefits, we all benefit as a community.”
Froslev was also honoured for his contribution to the arts and culture scene of Squamish, especially his creation and ongoing curation of the Brackendale Art Gallery, affectionately known as the BAG in town.
He built the gallery and opened it up in 1973. Since then, it has been the go-to cultural hub.
“I can’t think of a better example of leadership in the community,” said councillor-elect Armand Hurford.
“I know there’s a whole generation that doesn’t know Squamish without the BAG...thank you for showing us that example.”
There were a number of people in the audience who lauded Froslev, and councillors shared some of their favourite memories of him and the BAG.
Coun. Doug Race fondly remembered of his first time at the gallery, while Coun. Susan Chapelle recalled that she was married there.
“I certainly can’t imagine our community without his influence and his passion and his vision,” said Heintzman.
“And, certainly, I can’t imagine my life without his friendship.”