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‘It changes everything’: Vancouver’s new Aboriginal relations manager strives for awareness

Metro chats with Ginger Gosnell-Myers, the first Aboriginal relations manager for the City of Vancouver, on her plans for reconciliation and awareness.

The City of Vancouver has hired a new Aboriginal relations manager, Ginger Gosnell-Myers, seen outside of City Hall on April 7, 2016.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

The City of Vancouver has hired a new Aboriginal relations manager, Ginger Gosnell-Myers, seen outside of City Hall on April 7, 2016.

Whose territory are we on?

Ginger Gosnell-Myers hopes when she asks Vancouverites that question next year, they’ll know the answer: unceded First Nations territory.

“It would be much more appropriate if everybody knows we’re on Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh territory,” said Gosnell-Myers, the City of Vancouver’s first Aborignal relations manager. “I think everybody would be richer for it.”

Building awareness of the local First Nations and their history on this land is just one goal Gosnell-Myers will tackle in her new role, which includes a mission to make Vancouver the Aboriginal cultural tourism destination of 2017.

“What we hope to achieve in 2017 is an experience, an opportunity for all Vancouverites to really understand… we are here, this is our territory, we haven’t died, our culture is strong,” she said.

Gosnell-Myers, who is from the Nisga'a and Kwakwaka'wakw Nations, will work across departments and with local Indigenous groups to develop a plan that recognizes Indigenous culture and history, supports the community and improves the city’s relationship with the three local First Nations and the tens of thousands of urban Aboriginal people.

“We don’t have a strong reflection of their presence or their history. The city started to address this during the 2010 Olympics, but it was never driven further,” Gosnell-Myers said.

Vancouver created the position for Gosnell-Myers (a similar role exists in Edmonton, Toronto, Saskatoon and Winnipeg) after Truth and Reconciliation Commission events made it obvious Aboriginal relations had been on the backburner.

Steps the city has taken so far – responding to the TRC recommendations, holding cultural competency training for senior staff and acknowledging the city is on unceded territory – have already helped enormously, she said.

“It’s changed everything,” she said of council’s acknowledgement Vancouver is on unceded territory. “You can’t be on the path to reconciliation if you don’t acknowledge the territory that you’re on.”

Other projects Gosnell-Myers wants to take off the backburner include affordable housing for Aboriginal people and how to support service providers that help the community. These aren’t easy problems to solve, but Gosnell-Myers believes it’s important for the city to reconnect with instead of isolating the Indigenous communities that are often perceived negatively.

“I’m not naïve to think we don’t have a load of negative stereotypes about the First Nations and urban Aboriginal people here. We do,” she said. “But this isn’t a population that deserves to be thought of in a negative way. It deserves to be thought of for all the things they’re doing to fight back, to reclaim their culture, to support their young people, to honour their elders, to show that this is an ancient place, this is an Indigenous place.”

Everyone can do their part by going out and participating in cultural events, whether it’s the 11-day, $7.75-million Indigenous arts festival to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday in July 2017 or smaller events that happen almost daily, Gosnell-Myers said.  

“We have a strong community here. They are actively creating, starting, stopping, changing things,” she said. “This is how you learn and this is how we become a community, and not be so isolated and driven by stereotypes or misinformation.”

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