Snuneymuxw First Nation and B.C. Ferries have entered into an agreement that aims to build a better working relationship moving forward.
During a signing ceremony on Thursday, July 28, Coun. Bill Yoachim, acting chief, and Jill Sharland, interim CEO for B.C. Ferries, signed a relationship protocol that could see job opportunities, impacts to ferry operations on the nation’s territories, and the inclusion of Snuneymuxw culture.
“We’re redirecting our efforts to forging a relationship found upon the principles of respect, recognition, reconciliation and collaboration,” said Yoachim.
As a first of its kind and a year in the making, Yoachim said the agreement is based on a recognition of rights under the Snuneymuxw Treaty of 1854 that protects the nation’s lands and waters, and also affirms the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation.
During the signing ceremony, elder Jerry Brown spoke of discrimination he experienced in his youth while aboard the ferries.
“We weren’t allowed to go upstairs … on the ferries when they first started … If we wanted to go to the bathroom, we had to go to the bathroom and then come right back … That’s how far we’ve come,” said Brown. “Were talking about an agreement, something our ancestors can celebrate … It’s a show of how far we’ve come … To work together and come together to honour and respect each other.”
Yoachim said the agreement does address the “dark history of the past” but also aims to create a “pathway of equality, harmony and being one.”
In regards to the possibility of incorporating Snuneymuxw words to future B.C. ferry vessels, the acting chief said that while both parties are in the early stages of the agreement, the signing does bring both to the “right” table for respectful and positive conversation.
In January, SFN Chief Mike Wyse criticized the corporation, saying that naming two Nanaimo-to-Gabriola route vessels using Coast Salish words that did not originate from the Snuneymuxw language was racist and a colonial act.