Chilliwack – Hope candidates talk reconciliation

Candidates in the Chilliwack - Hope riding share their views on reconciliation in the Fraser Valley

By Tyler Olsen | September 17, 2021 |6:00 am

For the 2021, federal election, The Current is focusing on two issues with critical and unique local implications: housing affordability and Indigenous issues.

We sought interviews with candidates from each of the four major parties. In Chilliwack – Hope, we spoke to NDP candidate DJ Pohl and Liberal candidate Kelly Velonis. Conservative candidate Mark Strahl and Green candidate Arthur Green did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. (You can read why we did not request interviews with other parties’ candidates here.)

To read candidate questionnaires from other ridings, and to catch up on all our election coverage, check out our Fraser Valley Votes election hub. You can also read our riding profile for Chilliwack – Hope to learn more about the election in that riding.

NDP — DJ Pohl

FVC: How did the news about the discovery of the thousands of unmarked graves at residential schools across Canada affect your thinking personally about how this country should address past wrongs?

Pohl: I think the colonial history and past that we’ve experienced in this country has been something that many people have struggled to reconcile with for some time. In terms of the uncovering of these graves, and the numbers are more than 6,000 across the country at this point, [to] many First Nations communities and individuals it was no secret that there were graveyards on these schools. And having this resonate with everyday Canadian as an important message to reconcile with our history is so important because that actually kickstarts the need for the commitments on the full implementation of UNDRIP and the 94 calls to action on Truth and Reconciliation, specifically on education, and education being required at every level of schooling. As well as those who work as public servants and as employers, in general, being able to reconcile with this history and commit to doing all that we can, to first truly understand the truth.

We can’t begin to have reconciliation until we fully have that truth and understand what it looks like. And then commit to accountability and justice in that and move towards reconciliation that is fully funded and supported. This may include things that the NDP has committed: fully funding the search for grave sites at former residential schools, as well as the maintenance and reburial and protection of residential school cemeteries, according to the wishes of the Indigenous families. And that’s a really important piece here in that this must be done collaboratively with space to hear those important voices and stories as we’re learning this truth, and being able to support and address the need to, when it comes time to repair that harm, work towards work towards reconciliation. Part of that as well, the NDP is calling for a special prosecutor to be appointed to pursue and investigate those who [committed] harms during the residential school system. And that includes handing over records as well. Furthermore, that community-driven solution for healing must be fully supported and funded by the government. And that’s something that the NDP is committing to for sure.

FVC: Should federal Crown lands on the traditional territory of Indigenous peoples be turned back over to those people?

Pohl: Absolutely. Indigenous, First Nations communities need to be provided that first opportunity right of refusal in land claims. That’s one of the articles in the UNDRIP legislation, and land rights and rights to self determination and self-government. Locally in this riding, land claims are something that take significant amount of time and effort through the court system, and can be very drawn out and very cumbersome and very difficult. I think there could be ways to streamline that process that also works towards repairing some of that harm that was caused by the injustice caused to Indigenous people with regards to their lands in general. So yes absolutely, and I think there’s opportunity to streamline some of that as well so that there’s that greater opportunity for self determination and governance.

FVC: The NDP platform says consent from Indigenous communities is necessary for the approval of infrastructure projects and general policies. But what needs to be done to put processes in place to ensure that the consultation processes have legitimacy that is respected by all parties?

Pohl: When we talk about implementing UNDRIP and the 94 calls to action in Truth and Reconciliation, what that’s actually going to look like in practice is sometimes very challenging. And in terms of full, informed, prior free consent, and consultation with Indigenous communities, a very important piece of that is listening to Indigenous communities on what that threshold of “acceptable” means, and looks like to ensure that’s being upheld. And of course, this is going to be complicated at times, absolutely. But it’s a very important piece to be working collaboratively on defining what that looks like and growing towards a fully collaborative approach that creates space for that self government, governance and sovereignty.

FVC: Finally, what happens if and when the views of the bulk of First Nations or Indigenous people in an area or across the country conflict with your own party’s policies or promises? How do you process that into evaluating those ideas and policies?

Pohl: Do you have an example of what that might look like?

FVC: Well, there are in the Fraser Valley people and communities that have supported something like a pipeline, and there have been those who have opposed it, obviously. Those types of disagreements or even agreements within communities often conflict with a political party’s own ideas of how to proceed in a country or in a region. So how do you balance that? Or how do you process that input you received from Indigenous communities when you’re setting those policies?

Pohl: Yeah. The NDP is committed to developing an action plan, which is called out in the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations and UNDRIP as well, for reconciliation that draws directly on those calls to action. And this would then include outlining how to create that space necessary to have those discussions and work towards a consensus-based decision-making solution that comes collaboratively out of those communities. But again, it is very difficult and complicated. And within the communities there isn’t always agreement. But the most important thing is to respectfully create that space and avenue to have the discussion to ensure that all those voices that need to be heard, are heard and respected at that table through that process. It’s not going to be easy. But the opportunity to do that with full respect to Indigenous rights and title is there and available and the NDP are committed to designing that.

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Liberal — Kelly Velonis

FVC: The first question we want to ask is how the news of the discovery of those thousands of unmarked graves at residential schools have impacted you personally?

Velonis: It’s absolutely devastating. As a human being, as someone who lives and works in a community that has been so impacted by this, there are many different emotions that I myself have felt. Shame. Disgust. Horror. Sadness. The legacy of residential schools is such a dark chapter in our history, and the thousands of children that have been sent to the schools, ripped from their homes and communities, deprived of their culture and their language—I can’t really begin to imagine. There is no way that I could imagine that. And tragically, so many of these children as we’re finding out, that never came home, were buried in unmarked graves. We can’t bring those children back that were lost. But we can, and we have to, tell the truth of these injustices, support the communities and the survivors, and honor the memories. And I think the only way that we can do that is we need to take action. We need to listen. We need to start building trusting relationships. We need to support and fund mental health for these Indigenous communities. And we didn’t listen in the past. My ancestors didn’t listen in the past. And we have to listen now, and we have to continue to listen moving forward.

FVC: So do you think that federal Crown land should be returned to the Indigenous communities who have their traditional territory where those lands are?

Velonis: I believe that that’s something that needs to continue to be discussed and worked on between all parties. [Pause.] I think that’s a bigger answer than I myself can answer. But it’s definitely something that needs to be on the table. And we need to start honoring our past promises.

FVC: So we wanted to touch on the calls to action, because obviously those are front and center in a lot of people’s minds. And, you know, those came out six years ago now. And recently, the Liberals promised, I think it’s $320 million to search for residential school graves. But why wasn’t that promise made six years ago, right after the release of the report?

Velonis: And that’s a great question. And why wasn’t it? I can’t answer that, because I wasn’t involved in that. But I can say it should have been. And like I said earlier, we can’t go back and change the wrongs that have been done. But we can darn sure make sure we don’t make them again.

FVC: On that same vein, I think last year, the Assembly of First Nations put together a report card on the progress of the calls, and it determined that significant progress had only been made on about one-quarter of those. So why should people believe that the Liberal Party is really serious about these issues, when there has been so little progress made in the past on so many of the calls?

Velonis: Well, I think we need to look at things that have been done and that are continuing to be done. We’ve invested over $4 billion in 535 water infrastructure projects. We’ve lifted 109 long-term water advisories, which included lifting all advisories in British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada. We’ve prevented 188 short-term advisories. There’s still lots of work to do. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long process. But we are committed and we’ve shown that we’re committed. We will continue to fund up to 100% of the cost of maintaining their water infrastructures, and ensuring clean water for all communities. That should not even be a question: every Canadian deserves clean water. And we will continue to work until we resolve this. I believe that we’ve made progress on reconciliation and self-determination. We have been committed since day one to work with Indigenous people, to build a nation-to-nation, Inuit, and Crown and government-to-government relationship that’s based on respect, partnership, and recognition of rights. We’ve made great progress with the Métis Nation, with First Nations, and with the Inuit, but the work has to continue. We can sit and look at what we haven’t done. Or we can look at what we need to do. So, for me, the Liberal Party is the party that has that plan that is committed, and me in this riding will do all I can to be committed and work with, and start building relationships with the Indigenous communities in the Metis nation in this region.

FVC: And that actually leads into another question that we wanted to touch on, which is about consent from Indigenous groups on the approval of large infrastructure projects. So in your mind, what needs to be done to ensure that processes are in place to make sure those consultations have a legitimacy that’s respected by the federal government and the Indigenous people who are involved?

Velonis: I think what needs to happen is that, like you said, the key players need to be at the table. Decisions of this magnitude need to be made with the Indigenous people, not just with the government. We need to sit down and make sure that everybody works through it and come up with a plan and agreement that works for everybody.

FVC: And then what happens if you—and this is something I know the Liberals, being in power, have had to have to deal with—but when when there are certain Liberal policies that conflict with what First Nations people or Indigenous people are thinking or feeling or saying, how would you process that in evaluating your party’s policies?

Velonis: One of the reasons why I chose to run as a Liberal candidate is the fact that Liberal candidates, from what I’ve been privy to and seen and experienced, aren’t afraid to stand up for what they see their party maybe isn’t following through on enough. They have their own voice. They stand up and they say, ‘Hey, this is happening here. We need to step back. We need to look at this from a different viewpoint.’ We don’t all just follow what our party sets out at the beginning. We sit down. We communicate. We share our ideas and our concerns. And then everyone’s voice is heard. And so we need to work harder at making sure everyone else’s voice is heard. I have no problem standing up for what I believe is needed, and for what I believe my community needs, what I believe the Indigenous community needs, our environment needs, what our housing needs are. And sometimes that might be different than what my party sets out. And I think as an individual, and as somebody representing my community, it’s my duty to stand up and say that.

These interviews have been very lightly edited for clarity and basic grammar. Nothing of substance has been omitted. Each interview was recorded, but technical difficulties with two interviews makes publishing consistent recordings for each candidate difficult, so in the interest of fairness and consistency, we are publishing the transcripts.

Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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