Politics took a back seat as the City of Campbell River swore in its first Indigenous city councillor at the Tidemark Theatre Tuesday, Nov. 1.
Tanille Johnston was elected to council in Oct. 15’s municipal election, joining a city council made up of predominantly new councillors and a new mayor, Kermit Dahl, who were all sworn in at its Inaugural Council Meeting.
The significance of Johnston’s election was front and centre as the largely ceremonial meeting was accompanied by an Indigenous presence that reflected progress towards reconciliation with First Nations in Campbell River’s local government.
The meeting began with words from Wei Wai Kum First Nation Chief Chris Roberts and We Wai Kai First Nation Councillor Kim Duncan.
“(It’s the) first time being a part of this ceremony and part of this event,” Chief Roberts told the meeting, “and I think it’s pretty special that we’re in a time where it’s starting to become more of a normal occurrence.
“I want to acknowledge the fact … and congratulate the citizens of Campbell River for actually giving such a strong mandate to a new council and for, I would say, stepping up and … electing our first Indigenous representative on city council in Tanille Johnston … a female representative of the Laichwiltach people. I’m very honoured and proud of all the citizens of this community to help make that happen and I’m looking forward to what that has in store.”
Chief Roberts said it was no secret that leading up to the election, the elected leaders of the Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai were happy to promote and endorse a contingent of people that they felt were “genuinely interested in working with us as a government in recognizing our territory and we look forward to that relationship continuing on through their term and how we work together.”
Chief Roberts also acknowledged outgoing mayor Andy Adams and his council for their years of service to the community and for the positive relationship they’ve had with local First Nations and “we’re in a really good place to build from and grow and continue that great work together.”
Councillor Duncan added her congratulations and that of her Nation to the new mayor and council.
“And I also want to congratulate Tanille Johnston who is a We Wai Kai member and we’re all proud of you and we look forward to working with you,” Councillor Duncan said.
Laichwiltach Cultural Keeper Shawn Decaire noted it was the anniversary of the imprisonment of a large number of people following a potlatch in Village Island in Laichwiltach territory 100 years ago and at this significant moment, Indigenous representatives get to come forward and be part of the ceremony as well as sit as an elected representative in Campbell River for the very first time.
“It’s uplifting but also saddening that it’s taken this long for Campbell River to catch up with that pace,” Decaire said, “and where we’re swearing in people to take leadership of our land. But to be involved in a good way. It is both sad and uplifting.
“But it’s something that we can look forward to with progression now that we have a representative to share our voice as well in our community that maybe, truly, we can work toward truth and reconciliation.”