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Consultation with local First Nations needed before commemorative orange crosswalk installed in Burnaby

Burnaby city council says consultation with local First Nations is necessary before it considers installing an orange crosswalk to commemorate the victims and survivors of residential schools.

The proposal was brought forward to Mayor Mike Hurley and council by the Stand With Asians Coalition (SWAC) last month. In a Sept 24 statement, SWAC co-founder, Doris Mah, stated the idea stemmed from other cities and towns in Canada, including Orangeville, ON, and Gibsons, BC, that had done the same.

The colour orange has become a symbol of recognizing and raising awareness around the history and continued impacts of residential schools.

Orange Shirt Day, observed across the country on Sept 30, was inspired by the story of residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad, of the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, who was stripped of her orange shirt on her first day attending St. Joseph’s Residential School in 1973.

The orange crosswalk proposal for Burnaby was discussed during Monday’s council meeting.

“I would hope we consult with First Nations and our staff associated with it,” said Coun. Colleen Jordan. She furthered that she wouldn’t want to support something “just because it’s become a … fad or something and jump on that bandwagon.”

Jordan also suggested that there may be “more appropriate” ways to commemorate survivors and victims “rather than something you drive over.”

Mayor Hurley was quick to agree, stating a full consultation is needed before “we would even think about anything like this.”

“I don’t know if this is something a Nation would support or not. And that’s the key,” he said.

“The Nations should decide that. Not us.”

In a followup interview after Monday’s council meeting, Mah told the Beacon that while SWAC proposed the idea, the city acts as a “connecting point” to the multiple First Nations communities with ties to Burnaby including the səlilwətaɬ, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, kʷikʷəƛ̓əm, qʼʷa:n̓ƛʼən̓, q̓ic̓əy̓, sc̓əwaθn məsteyəxʷ, and Sto:lo First Nations.

“We’re just the ones that come up with the idea [and are] proposing it and I feel like the ball is in the court with the city now,” stated Mah.

“I think that everything needs to be done in very close consultation with the First Nations.”

Mah said there was a similar process involved with SWAC’s proposal to set up a shoe memorial at Civic Square outside the Metrotown library, following the discovery of 215 unmarked graves of children whose remains were found at the Kamloops Residential School in May.

The city contacted local First Nations to approve the memorial, where it should take place, and where the shoes should go afterwards, Mah explained.

“This decision was made collaboratively,” said Mah.

As for what comes next, council has sent the orange crosswalk proposal to staff to study.

Fancy C. Poitras, the city’s Indigenous relations manager, told the Beacon via email that part of the study will be to consult with local First Nations through a “referral process.”

“In this case, referrals will be sought from local Nations about the appropriateness of this action, as well as any proposed or potential sites which may come out of the study, in order to ensure work done recognizes and respects the environmental, heritage and social perspectives and concerns of the local Nations,” she said.

“The City of Burnaby makes these referrals in keeping with its commitments to Truth and Reconciliation, and aligned with the relationships being built with local Nations.”