Absence of Sinixt Nation on city First Nations consultation list draws lengthy Revelstoke council discussion

In a sometimes emotional discussion that lasted nearly two hours at its Oct. 26 meeting, Revelstoke city council opted to move forward with a subdivision process and key OCP amendments using a new First Nations contact list that does not include the Sinixt Nation.

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Revelstoke City Hall pictured in late February 2021. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

At its Oct. 26 meeting, Revelstoke city council opted to move forward with a subdivision in Arrow Heights and an official community plan amendment bylaw with a new list of First Nations to be consulted on the changes. However, the list omits the Sinixt Nation.

Discussion on the decision lasted for over an hour and 45 minutes and was almost entirely focused on the topic of consultation with the Sinixt in light of a new staff First Nations consultation plan.

Councillor Tim Palmer led the objection to a plan that would send consultation letters to 11 First Nations in the region, but not the Sinixt.

Soon after the Sinixt victory in the R. V. Desautel case at the Supreme Court of Canada in April 2021, which affirmed Constitutional rights of Indigenous Peoples outside of Canada who are descendants of pre-contact societies in Canada, Revelstoke city council passed a motion asking staff to begin an engagement process with the Sinixt.

Background: Read about the R. V. Desautel case at the Supreme Court of Canada here:

The meaning of belonging: Sinixt at the Supreme Court of Canada

“The intent was clear,” Palmer said of the April council resolution at the Oct. 26 meeting. “We just had a landmark Supreme Court Case that affects our community, Revelstoke.”

“Why did it take this long?” he asked.

Palmer said six months had passed and he was blindsided by a staff proposal to expand the list of First Nations groups city staff send referral letters to that does not include the  Sinixt. Palmer said he found out about the plan just days before the meeting when the agenda was published.

“Quite frankly, I’m deeply troubled about it on a number of levels,” Palmer said. “It only came to my attention on Friday. I was immediately troubled.”

Watch: Council discusses Sinixt consultation

Watch the council discussion of the Sinixt consultation question at its Oct. 26, 2021, meeting here. The video is cued to the start of discussion:

Sinixt people lived and travelled in the Arrow Lakes region in territory that spanned the modern Canada-U.S. border, but discriminatory government and societal policies and practices that restricted Sinixt traditional seasonal life patterns, and a reservation system forced the Sinixt to live on non-viable parcels of land, and other factors, meant that many Sinixt peoples located permanently in Washington state, including on the Colville Reservation in Washington.

Background: Read about the Supreme Court of Canada R. V. Desautel decision here:

Ties that bind: The Supreme Court recognizes Sinixt rights in Canada

 

However, city staff said they have been working actively on consultation and reconciliation and the staff report and plan is part of ongoing improvements. Staff said they followed a consultation list maintained by the B.C. government and the Sinixt Nation is not included on that list now. Staff said they’d updated the First Nations consultation list as part of the process, increasing the number of First Nations to be consulted to 11. Generally, staff said they have actively improved consultation and were working with First Nations including reaching out to meet a Sinixt representative. Staff said the work will be ongoing and they are up-to-date, experienced, and following current provincial policy.

“Staff is not opposed to consulting with the Sinixt Nation, but what we need to understand is the process,” said development services department director, Marianne Wade.

During the long discussion, everyone at the council table said they wanted to consult and build relationships with the Sinixt. But the majority felt stopping processes in their tracks wouldn’t be beneficial for reconciliation purposes or for ongoing work and projects.

Coun. Michael Brooks-Hill said pressuring the Sinixt to “tick boxes” on ongoing city processes wasn’t a good approach to reconciliation.

“I think we all agree that consultation with the Sinixt is important,” said Coun. Mike Brooks-Hill. “Putting projects on hold pending consultation does not seem to be the good way to start a relationship.”

“At the end of the day we’re trying to build relationships,” said Coun. Nicole Cherlet.

Palmer said council and the city had a moral and ethical obligation to consult with the Sinixt, and that staff already had six months to work on consultation. He said he felt endorsing a proposed policy that excluded them would put council and the processes in legal peril.

“I think we are making a mistake. Does this transfer responsibility from staff to council?” Palmer asked.

The discussion spanned over two separate items on the agenda, including an official community plan (OCP) amendment that helps pave the way for a new subdivision at 1160 Newlands Road, and two amendment bylaws that are central to the ongoing OCP process.

There were also a dozen letters submitted by residents expressing concern about the lack of consultation with the Sinixt, but they were not included in the council agenda. Revelstokemountaineer.com reached out to city staff to ask why. Staff responded saying Coun. Tim Palmer made a motion at the Oct. 26 meeting to have the letters included on the agenda, so they were added to the meeting and you can now view them via this link.

During votes on both agenda items, Coun. Palmer was the lone vote against, so both items move forward without Sinixt referral consultation.

Council created and passed a new resolution that asked staff to continue to work with the Sinixt to develop a consultation process.

B.C. government perspective in evolving situation

City staff pointed to a geography-based database app maintained by the B.C. government that tells local governments which First Nations to consult.

Revelstokemountaineer.com reached out to the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation and Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for more information about the consultation list and consultation requirements for the Sinixt.

In a joint response attributed to both ministries, a spokesperson wrote that the B.C. government is “initiating dialogue” with the Lakes Tribe of the Colville Confederated Tribe in light of the R. v. Desautel Supreme Court of Canada Decision.

We learned in our reporting that Sinixt Nation representatives are holding discussions with senior provincial staff this week, including a ministerial-level meeting.

By not including someone on a consultation list, is a municipality exposed to elevated legal risk? In our questions we referenced risk to processes like official community plans and the response statement downplayed the risk. The joint ministry response said: “Local governments do not have a legal duty to consult in the same way the courts have established for the Province but we encourage engagement including on land use matters like changes to official community plans.”

The ministries also provided a general statement on local government consultation with First Nations: “We encourage local governments to build relationships with neighbouring First Nations so they can work together to improve the quality of life for everyone in their communities. … Also, if local governments are aware of concerns or have received input from First Nations, we advise that they consider whether they can address those matters first, before proceeding to any decisions.”

Sinixt spokesperson Shelly Boyd: Part of a painful history

File photo: Shelly Boyd, Arrow Lakes facilitator in front of a panel at the Hume Hotel, Nelson, B.C. Photo: Arts Revelstoke

In a telephone interview, Shelly Boyd, who serves as a Canadian representative and spokesperson for the Sinixt in Canada, said the decision not to consult with the Sinixt was hurtful.

She said she hadn’t watched the Oct. 26 city council meeting, but said that an argument based on bureaucratic reasoning ignored the fact that council could consult with the Sinixt in spirit. When asked for a response for to staff arguments that they are actively working on including the Sinixt in consultations, but were following provincial guidelines in a changing situation, Boyd said the end result was nevertheless hurtful.

“We recognize that the City of Revelstoke is doing the bare minimum and not following the spirit of truth and reconciliation and we recognize that. It is sad and a painful reality we have experienced for over 100 years,” Boyd said.

Boyd emphasized that Sinixt peoples have real connections to the Revelstoke area, including current Colville residents whose grandparents and great-grandparents lived in the area before being forced out. They share the stories of their systemic expulsion from the region and Boyd said the historical injustice is current and real for the Sinixt people.

“It’s not just a place, this is a meaningful place we have lived and survived in since time immemorial,” Boyd said.

Video: Shelly Boyd speaks at the unveiling of a new Art Alleries work by Sinixt artist Ric Gendron at LUNA Fest 2021

Boyd said that for over a century of struggle, including before and after the federal government’s 1956 Sinixt extinction declaration, Sinixt people have faced bureaucratic responses to their fight for recognition, adding governments can reach out outside of formal processes.

In reference to the ongoing revelations of the terrors of the announcements of the children’s bodies found in in unmarked graves in former residential schoolyards, Boyd compared not being consulted at this time to the Revelstoke consultation question.

“This is part of the same buried truth, and it hurts,” Boyd said.

She said local governments could reach out directly to Cody Desautel, the Natural Resources Director for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation on consultation questions like this one.

Boyd said that Sinixt representatives were meeting with B.C. government officials this week to work on consultation protocols.