What Vancouver city council’s funding cut says about its commitment to reconciliation

Choosing to cut the Innovation Fund was no accident, NPA councillor reveals.

This is from our Urban Nation newsletter. You can subscribe here.

There are times in life when you hate being right, and this is one of them for me. Being wrong sucks too, but when you’re right about something you had a foreboding feeling about, it bites.

In a newsletter I penned after last October’s civic election in Vancouver, I pondered where reconciliation would stand with the new incoming council. Would it still be a priority, or would it be dismissed as a Vision Vancouver thing, swept out by association with the previous regime?

I asked this because Vancouver declared itself a City of Reconciliation in 2014 and in many ways has since emerged as a leader in urban reconciliation across Canada. Despite this, reconciliation was barely mentioned in the last election, and isn’t explicitly listed among the city’s 2019 budget priorities.

Well, I recently got my answer while researching a story about Vancouver city council’s decision to cut its Innovation Fund in half. A dig beneath the numbers reveals a deeper story about how precarious reconciliation funding can be in the hands of newly elected decision-makers.

The Innovation Fund gave the city some flexibility to support emerging ideas and community projects as they came up between city budgets, as long as they found some matching funds. With no dedicated reconciliation fund to otherwise draw from, a slew of innovative reconciliation projects have been supported by this fund in the last few years, from healing and wellness centres, to cultural initiatives, and more.

So why did NPA Councillor Melissa De Genova want to cut this fund? Ostensibly to reduce property taxes. She told a December council meeting that she wasn’t exactly sure what it funded, but that savings had to be found for fiscal responsibility.

But when I interviewed her in January, she made it clear she’d picked the Innovation Fund on purpose. She referred to it as a “Vision Vancouver slush fund” that was devoid of transparency and accountability, and had to be cut.

“There’s nothing in the Innovation Fund that specifically says that it supports reconciliation projects,” she told me, adding that staff had assured her such projects could get funding from other sources, like the city’s contingency fund. (Though she declined to say which staff had offered that suggestion, just moments after she expressed concern about Vision’s alleged lack of transparency.)

“In retrospect we should have asked for the list of projects or programs that that Innovation Fund has funded in the past,” says Adriane Carr.

Green Councillor Adriane Carr was one of the few councillors to question De Genova during that December meeting, though even she was “reluctantly” prepared to vote for her proposal.

Carr later told me that council — and especially its newly elected members — should have sought more information before voting to cut the fund. No one told them the fund helped support the city’s reconciliation initiatives, she said.

But the new city council remains committed to reconciliation, both councillors assured me.

So, a bunch of newly elected city councillors (and a few who should know better) halve an important reconciliation fund, admittedly not knowing exactly what it does. But councillors say that reconciliation is still a priority with them.

I’d hate to see if it wasn’t.

People are talking about

  • Vancouver’s Best Places breaks down the annual Nisga’a Hobiyee celebration that will be held this weekend in Vancouver.

  • StarMetro is reporting that the Vancouver School Board won’t open its own independent inquiry into former trustee Ken Clement, who was charged with communicating to obtain sexual services from a minor in an underage sex sting last June. Clement, who was the first known Indigenous school trustee in Vancouver, has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to stand trial in October.

  • In this CBC News opinion piece, Indigenous affairs columnist Doug Cuthand gives his take on the recent incident in Washington between a white youth wearing a Make America Great Again hat and an Indigenous elder.

  • This Surrey Now-Leader editorial looks at the intangible yet groundbreaking benefits of a joint meeting between the Semiahmoo First Nation’s council and White Rock’s city council.


Roots workers and elders pick medicines with youth in or from care in Coldwater, B.C. in June 2018.

Last week we published two pieces about B.C.’s child-welfare system — one asking why there are so few Roots workers, and another on how social workers are afraid to speak out for fear of repercussions from their employer, the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

In response, many of you offered feedback:

“Advocacy for children who are by definition vulnerable requires speaking out and up! Not to hide behind confidentiality laws,” wrote Susanna Kaljur, who says she worked with “countless social workers regarding multiple children” as an elementary school counsellor. “There are ways to do so without speaking their names.”

Screen shot Ginger comment 

Margaret wrote: “I have a number of friends that are social workers in child protection and when I engaged them in casual conversation a month ago — ‘Hey have things gotten better under the NDP government?’ — I was surprised to hear that things continue to deteriorate with large caseloads, intimidation by superiors, and dysfunctional management structures in regional offices… The worst thing is how demoralized the team members are. Please keep up these interviews.”

In response to the Roots workers story — which found the B.C. ministry only employs 16 such workers to support more than 2,000 Indigenous kids in their care to connect with their cultures and communities — Marie Smallboy, a grandmother from Maskwacis in Treaty 6 territory, wrote:

“All Roots workers do is fulfill a legal requirement for child welfare agencies to ensure children in care know their cultural heritage,” she said. “A Nehiyaw child removed from their family in B.C. is subjected to sporadic exposure to the west coast culture. This does little to maintain the roots from their homeland… There is no other nationality that can raise our children to be Nehiyaw — that is our sacred responsibility as life givers of Nehiyawahk.”

Thanks to everyone who wrote. If you’d like to share your thoughts, email Brielle.

Let’s gather

  • Jan. 31: Hear a reading of playwright Tara Beagan’s latest, Dreary and Izzy, at 7 p.m. at the Massey Theatre in New West. There will be a talkback with Beagan — who describes herself as a “proud halfbreed of Ntlaka’pamux and Irish Canadian heritage” — after the reading. Presented by Savage Society in partnership with the Massey Theatre.

  • Jan. 31: Dr. Dalee Sambo Dorough, the newly elected International Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, presents Indigenous Human Rights: The Continuing Quest for Equality at the Sty-Wet-Tan Longhouse at UBC. No cover charge. 6 to 7:30 p.m.

  • Feb. 1-2: Celebrate Hoobiyee, the Nisga’a New Year, with stories, songs and dances at the PNE Forum this weekend. Hoobiyee: Ts’amiks edition starts each day at 10:30 a.m. and goes until about 10 p.m. If you’re curious about the history of Hoobiyee, check out this Nisga’a document, which draws on teachings from simgigat (or chiefs).

  • Feb. 1 (to March 16): Starting this weekend, Anishinaabe artists Maria Hupfield and Charlene Vickers will be exhibiting their “monumental jingle cone” at the Fazakas Gallery. They created the cone for a series of performances at the 2018 Seattle Art Fair, where they “activated their cone to explore its musical potential, communicate with each other, and converse with their grandmothers.” The Vancouver exhibit, Jingles and Sounds for Speaking to Our Grandmothers, “brings together documentation of the performances in Seattle, the jingle cone itself, and a new series of drawings made from the original performance costumes.” Opening reception on Friday from 6 to 8 p.m.

  • Feb. 2: Kickstand’s hosting Kick It: Fundraiser for Unist’ot’en’ Legal Fund from 3 to 8 p.m. on Venables Street in East Vancouver. There’ll be music, food, a silent art auction, and a pop-up thrift store. If you’d like to get involved, donate art for the auction or quality items for the thrift shop, email [email protected] with ‘Unist’ot’en Fundraiser/Kick It’ in the subject line.

If you know about an event that you think should be included in this newsletter next week, send me an email.

And if you like this newsletter, help us build this community by inviting your friends to subscribe. We value your feedback.[end]


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