BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Lessons to be learned

It’s increasingly obvious that the federal government could learn a few lessons from Enderby.

It’s increasingly obvious that the federal government could learn a few lessons from Enderby.

At the same time that Ottawa is being accused of ignoring critical First Nations issues, Enderby’s civic and business leaders are working co-operatively with their aboriginal counterparts.

“We are celebrating it as an integral part of our culture,” said Mayor Howie Cyr of the Splatsin First Nation and the Shuswap culture.

“We have cultivated an excellent working relationship with the Splatsin band and there is a lot to gain from it.”

There was a time in the Okanagan when the rich tapestry of First Nations culture rarely registered with the broader community. School studies were based on a European, colonial perspective, and there certainly was little consultation with bands over land use issues.

But that situation has begun to evolve.

There is an increasing recognition locally that not only is this traditional First Nations territory, but the Okanagan and Splatsin bands are key to the region’s social and economic development, as well as natural resources like water.

In Enderby, city and regional district officials are working side-by-side with the Splatsin chief and council on the vitalization project. The goal is to instill a broad community pride and encourage tourists and new investment.

A visible symbol of this partnership is a proposed logo for Enderby and district. It incorporates an aboriginal pictograph.

“We have amazing people, amazing art, amazing stories and a strong First Nations culture and we need to showcase it to the world,” said Darren Robinson, with the Enderby Chamber of Commerce.

Of course Enderby isn’t the only sign of a new relationship unfolding.

The City of Vernon has developed close ties with the Okanagan Indian Band, as has the District of Lake Country. In fact, Lake Country recently selected pelmewash as a road name. It’s the Okanagan word for Wood Lake.

But despite all of the positive efforts, challenges still exist.

Members of the Splatsin First Nation recently held an Idle No More rally to express concern about the federal government’s handling of aboriginal matters.

Specifically, they claim Ottawa has arbitrarily changed legislation that will negatively impact the environment and how First Nations operate.

“It infringes on our rights and terms of consultation,” said Wayne Christian, Splatsin chief.

When interviewed, Okanagan-Shuswap MP Colin Mayes didn’t specifically address the concerns of the Splatsin and only spoke of what he considers are the good things his government has done.

“I believe our government has taken action on many fronts including aboriginal housing,” he said.

In Ottawa, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has been on a hunger strike to bring attention to poverty, poor housing and a lack of opportunities on reserves across the country. She has asked to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper but that hasn’t occurred.

There’s no question that the issues facing Canada’s First Peoples are complex and there are no easy solutions.

But refusing to meet or sticking to the same tired rhetoric isn’t the solution. If there is to be certainty for both natives and non-natives, a new approach is required.

It’s a message both the residents of Enderby and the Splatsin have been willing to embrace.

Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star