As municipalities across Canada celebrate the country’s 150th birthday this year, the City of Vancouver will try to mark something much larger.
Staff, along with members of three local First Nations and the urban Aboriginal community, are preparing events to commemorate what the city is calling “Canada 150+.” The plus is meant to acknowledge the indigenous history of the region and part of an attempt to “heal from the past and move forward with shared understanding and respect,” according to a report going to council Tuesday.
As Ginger Gosnell-Myers, the city’s aboriginal relations manager, put it in a recent interview, it would not be right for a municipality that calls itself a “city of reconciliation” to mark just 150 years, or to call it a celebration.
“There is a real difference between celebrating Canada’s birthday and commemorating it,” she said. The idea is to hold events that are more than just parties and allow deeper looks at the past, present and future of the area.
Among the more than a dozen events will be a gathering of canoes and a weeklong festival of traditional and contemporary Indigenous and cross-cultural art, culture and sport in July, and a walk for reconciliation in September. None of those events is taking place on Canada Day.
The city has signed a statement of cooperation with the Squamish Nation to guide their collaboration on the events. Staff are working toward signing similar documents with the Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, and some of the three nations’ artists and performers will be part of the programming.
When asked how people have received the idea, Gosnell-Myers said planning was still in the early stages, but she was optimistic it would go over well.
“While the notion of celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday might not be so well supported in the indigenous community, (looking) at the role of indigenous peoples in shaping this country and welcoming us to these lands is something they can get behind. Much more than they can get behind just general recognition, which seems quite exclusionary,” said Gosnell-Myers, who is Nisga’a and Kwakwaka’wakw and has lived mostly in Vancouver since 1998.
Marnie Rice, a cultural planner at the city, said the idea to brand Vancouver’s events as Canada 150+ came from the city council-appointed Urban Aboriginal Peoples Advisory Committee, and its goals are in sync with what some residents had been calling for in a series of public engagement sessions.
“People wanted to try to decolonize the anniversary of confederation. Some of the folks were talking about trying to celebrate those people that have welcomed us to this land,” Rice said.
The overall budget for the city’s 150+ events and project is $6.2 million. The federal heritage ministry contributed $2.3 million.
Vancouver has called itself a city of reconciliation with a goal to strengthen its relations with local First Nations and urban Aboriginal people, promote Aboriginal “arts, culture, awareness and understanding,” and to incorporate Aboriginal perspectives in local governance, according to the city’s report.
Vision Vancouver Coun. Heather Deal spoke about the city’s 150+ project when she addressed those who attended the Women’s March on Washington in downtown Vancouver Saturday. She began her comments, as many councillors have taken to doing in public speeches, by acknowledging she was on unceded territory.
“We’re also very happy to acknowledge that 150 is not the age of this city, it’s not the age of this country, it’s not the age of this land. It’s 150 years of a certain governmental rule. So we’re calling it 150+ here and we’re working with our host nations here and they are helping us to celebrate the reality of the history of the city of Vancouver.”