A series of 11 recommendations into a possible name change for City of Powell River have been tendered in a report from the joint working group, released July 15.
The report follows an engagement process that has taken place during the first six months of 2022, to receive extensive public input into the prospect of removing the name of Israel Powell from the name of the city. The recommendations suggest a considered approach and there appear to be no quick fixes. There does not appear to be an assent voting or referendum process on the horizon.
The initiative for a possible name change for the city came out of a community-to-community-to-community (C3) meeting on May 12, 2021, where the prospect of a renaming was introduced by Tla’amin Nation representatives.
At the C3 meeting, Tla’amin executive councillor Erik Blaney said: “People need to know that whenever Powell River comes out of our mouth, it’s painful. You look at who Israel Powell was and what he did for our people. The legislation he tabled impacted Indigenous people across Canada. We lost our culture and our connection to the land because of this guy.”
Blaney said there was a need to find a way to reconcile and work together.
In November 2021, the city and Tla’amin set up the joint working group, with representatives from both. Through the first half of 2022, the joint working group, through its consultants, conducted an extensive exercise into a possible name change, with consultants being hired in January, public engagement preparation in January and February and an extensive public engagement process from March to May.
Tla’amin hegus John Hackett said the process has given a finger on the pulse of community engagement.
“It seemed like the right time to release the report and have a debriefing,” said Hackett. “We are realizing from the community engagement that a name change, without the education, wouldn’t be the right timing with the feedback received from everybody. We just feel that from this report, there’s a lot of community engagement that has taken place, and there has been a lot of hard work the joint working group has put in. It’s just a time for reflection right now.
“We can come back in the fall or something like that to pick up where we left off in a good way.”
Hackett said the process takes everybody into consideration.
“We’ve realized that a name change right now would be too soon,” said Hackett. “There’s more background information and engagement we have to do to make sure everyone is comfortable moving forward, realizing all of us are living here and no one is going anywhere, so we should get on the same page and start a new chapter.
“I can feel a synergy and the road to reconciliation has change, which is hard.”
Hackett said the possible name change process has showcased what Tla’amin and the city have been working toward.
Powell River mayor Dave Formosa said there have been complications along the way, such as COVID-19, and developing the name change process in the middle of it had difficulties, plus, the looming municipal election in October.
“The request came and we’ve dealt with it,” said Formosa. “I’ve come to terms and I’m glad that we have, because now, the door has been opened to a conversation that is important to the Tla’amin Nation government and our neighbours.”
Formosa said a lot of the discussion reverts to residential schools and the effect on the generations of people from Tla’amin, and the Israel Powell connection.
He added that this is not the first conversation he’s heard about a name change, but it had never previously got the kind of legs the process received this time.
“Where the committee landed, based on the consultants’ report, we came to the conclusion that the timing wasn’t that good, but I know it has been a very good educational process,” said Formosa.
The mayor said the process of changing the name of the Village of Queen Charlotte in Haida Gwaii took four years.
“We found, when we researched that, they went through the same things we are going through,” said Formosa. “That brings a little comfort. They found a longer conversation was required. You can’t rush something like this. You need to give it a good process.
“Rushing this along is not the way to go. I would not vote for an opinion poll. It’s too early in the conversation.”
Formosa said the joint working group landed in a “pretty good place.”
He urged people, moving forward, to be respectful to one another, on both sides, and understand each other’s personal feelings.
The joint working group has come up with 11 recommendations.
The first is that additional public education and community engagement activities be planned on issues of shared values, history and reconciliation.
The second is that engagement activities be targeted to under-reached demographics.
Further engagement on the name change should be designed to maximize the safety of all participants, the recommendations stated.
The city should make reconciliation and relations with Tla’amin nation a strategic priority, according to the recommendations.
Tla’amin is tasked to develop a set of educational materials describing what they want their neighbours throughout the qathet region to know about them, and that the city include this information in training for city staff and leadership.
It’s recommended that the city, Tla’amin and qathet Regional District, through the C3 process, establish a reconciliation committee mandated and resourced to advance reconciliation throughout the city and regional district.
The city is prompted to establish a staff position or positions to support implementation of the report and maintain positive reciprocal relationships with Tla’amin and other Indigenous residents throughout the region.
There is a recommendation that public information and engagement events for various ages, groups, and in a range of formats, be undertaken to better understand racism and colonialism and promote action to achieve racial equality.
Ceremonial efforts should be undertaken to reject all forms of racism and support healing and unification among all residents of the qathet region, according to the report.
Additional community engagement activities should be planned on issues of shared values, history and reconciliation as the basis for identifying options for a new name for the city, the recommendations stated.
The final recommendation is that a referendum or assent voting process is one of many available tools to engage the public and gauge public opinion. The recommendations state it is not the appropriate tool to utilize right now. The recommendations further state a possible assent voting process and topics should only be carefully considered after implementation of the recommendations of the report.
The findings of the research are divided into four categories in the joint working group’s report, including community engagement, relationships and reconciliation, racism and city name change.
According to the joint working group’s call to action in the report, the group’s mandate was simply a starting point for a community conversation.
“This conversation was about a municipal name change and yet went well beyond this,” the report stated. “It revealed the long-overdue need to work together to grapple with the legacy we have all inherited. This process revealed the extent to which that legacy is still very much with us and causes harm in the present. Allowing these harms to continue is wrong.
“It is incumbent upon us to acknowledge the truth, make repairs to the present, and move forward together as people united by our love for this place.”
The report is available at powellriver.ca/pages/pnc.