The Snuneymuxw flag, right, flies atop Nanaimo City Hall alongside the B.C. flag and the City of Nanaimo flag. (NEWS BULLETIN file)

Snuneymuxw councillor wants First Nation’s flag removed from Nanaimo City Hall

Douglas White III will ask Snuneymuxw councillors to denounce Nanaimo mayor’s comments

A Snuneymuxw councillor no longer wants to see the First Nation’s flag flown at city hall.

Douglas White III said in a social media post this week that given Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay’s “denial of the reality of the violence city manager Tracy Samra has experienced from a city councillor,” he’ll bring a motion to the SFN government to rescind support for flying their flag at city hall.

White told the News Bulletin he’s not suggesting that the mayor’s comments are racially motivated.

“It’s the simple fact the city manager is an indigenous woman,” said the Snuneymuxw councillor. “[The mayor’s] denial of that and erasure of that reality cannot be allowed to stand. As an indigenous leader, every act of violence against an indigenous woman has to be understood as an act of violence against all of my people, myself included.”

The flag was intended to be a permanent fixture at city hall, flying with the B.C. and City of Nanaimo flags. It was raised in 2015 on National Aboriginal Day.

McKay said then that it wasn’t merely symbolic but should be considered proof of friendship and Snuneymuxw Chief John Wesley said the ceremony showed respect.

“That flag means a lot to me. It’s a symbol of the Snuneymuxw people,” White said this week. “And when the mayor of the city’s denying violence against aboriginal people, it just does not sit well with me that our flag is flying over that city hall. He has turned that gesture of good faith towards the citizens of Nanaimo, the sacred flag of the Snuneymuxw people, he’s turned that into a flag of convenience.”

White said at his next opportunity to speak with fellow Snuneymuxw councillors, he wants to talk about the original decision to allow the flag to fly at city hall. He will also ask the SFN council to denounce the alleged assault against Samra and McKay’s comments about the incident, request that the mayor rescind his comments, and request that the Snuneymuxw flag be returned to the First Nation.

McKay declined to comment on White’s wishes to have the Snuneymuxw flag removed from city hall.

Earlier this week, when asked about a petition alleging a connection between workplace violence and Samra’s First Nations background, McKay said he doesn’t consider it “in any way, shape or form” in his interaction with Samra.

White’s comments come on the heels of a petition that says it’s time for city council to acknowledge alleged violence against Samra and it’s time for an official apology by municipal leadership and the resignation of McKay. The mayor responded, in an article in the News Bulletin, saying that while he believes the petition is well meaning, it is incorrect in facts. He also said a recent report based on a respectful workplace complaint by Samra does not conclude there’s harassment and violence against her.

White said it “remains to be seen” whether this week’s disagreement will have impacts on other relationships and partnerships between the Snuneymuxw and the City of Nanaimo.

“This is a real challenging moment for all of us,” he said. “I take no pleasure in raising these issues publicly because I’m also someone that lives in Nanaimo and I love this city and I care about it and I don’t like the fact that we have to talk about these issues because it’s damaging to the reputation of this city, but what would be worse would be remaining silent at this moment.”

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