The Kamloops Food Policy Council has launched a series on food and the city to explore a number of deeper civic discussions leading up to our municipal election. As the late urban planner and Canadian food advocate Wayne Roberts wrote, “food is a lever.” Food is how we connect to the land, our communities, and our traditions. And because food is so impactful in all our lives, it is a useful lever through which we can create transformative changes in other areas. Strong local food systems can help us get to more affordable housing, walkable neighbourhoods, stronger local economies, spaces for safety and belonging, and more.
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Decolonizing the Municipality
Over the last few years, decolonizing relationships has been increasingly urgent, as Indigenous communities have been faced with rising up as society grapples with the uncovering of the bodies of children at residential schools, Missing and Murdered Indigenous People and the disproportionate rates of health epidemics in Indigenous communities. The Kamloops Food Policy Council acknowledges that there is no food security without Indigenous Food Sovereignty, and we wanted to get to the root of the health and wealth divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, literally, starting at the ground level, with the land.
The Kamloops Food Policy Council hosted a book club on the Yellowhead Institute’s Land Back paper, in spring 2022. The Land Back paper uses consent as the central touchstone for the restoration of Indigenous jurisdiction over the land. So, as we face a municipal election amidst ongoing reckoning with the colonial history of this land, we want to ask, what role can the municipality play in decolonization?
One of the most important things to understand is the chain of events that occurred because of an incorrect assumption made by the first settlers that there were no Indigenous laws. They made this erroneous assumption because Indigenous laws were in oral stories, and not written on paper at the time of contact. As a result, British colonists applied their own laws, and in doing so claimed the vast majority of what is now known as Canada as crown land. While Indigenous law still remains in tacts and unbroken, crown land inhibits control and decision making powers by Indigenous people within their territories.
Right now, in BC, crown land comprises 94% of the province, while Indigenous reserve land makes up only 0.4%. Across the entire country, Indigenous reserve land represents only 0.02% of the land base. Just take a minute to let these numbers sink in. Less than half of 1% of the land is under the jurisdiction of the Indigenous populations who stewarded and cared for this land from time out of mind, until the time of contact with settlers.
[Map of Crown Land in City of Kamloops Boundaries]
Although crown land often looks barren and empty on a map, every square metre is affected by mining, logging, drilling or the associated impacts to the watersheds and wildlife. The extraction of resources from crown land is the core of the economy. Which means that Canada’s economy relies on the ongoing alienation of Indigenous people from their land. Indigenous people have experienced this forceful removal from the land over time through laws prohibiting Indigenous people from leaving reserves, residential schools, the 60s scoop, incarceration, and many other direct and indirect ways. This land alienation has left Indigenous communities in poverty and it reinforces the cycle, as multiple coinciding crises prevent Indigenous people from pursuing the restoration of their rights and title to the land (Land Back, 2019). We might think of the chain of events looking like this:
Colonists assumption about the absence of Indigenous law > Creation of crown land and private land holdings using British laws > Removal of Indigenous jurisdiction over land > Widespread natural resource extraction benefitting settlers > Requirement for continued Indigenous land alienation for economic purposes > Overlapping Indigenous crises > Continued land alienation and natural resource extraction.
So back to the original question: what role can a municipality play in decolonization? There are significant decolonial actions that are within the realm of power that a local government has that can help to redress the harm that has occurred.
Starting with reconciling the false assumption about the absence of Indigenous Laws that occurred at contact, the first policy recommendation is for the municipality to formally recognize oral and written Indigenous law. One instance where this already occurred was during the review process for the AJAX mine, where Indigenous communities in the Kamloops area formed the group Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc Nation (SSN) and used Indigenous laws to determine that they did not consent to the creation of a mine in the proposed area. The City of Kamloops subsequently also opposed the project. It would be valuable to continue and deepen this commitment to accepting Indigenous decisions, directives and resolutions when it comes to regional issues.
The second recommendation is to look for opportunities to transition government land to Indigenous control. The City of Kamloops has already supported an addition to reserve application by Tk’emlups te Secwépemc, and there are more opportunities to directly transfer municipal land to the Secwépemc nation. The return of ancestral lands within municipal boundaries to Indigenous communities has been done across our province including in Mission in 2021, in Merritt in 2020, and in Vancouver in 2014.
The third recommendation is for the City to support the advancement of education around Secwépemc histories, stories, and laws. It is important for education both within the school district, and in the broader citizenship of Kamloops to be focused on Secwépemc specific information and that this education includes a decolonial lens. It is equally as important for non-Indigenous people in Kamloops to explore their own ancestry and its land-based connections. The more we can see ourselves as humans in connection with the land, the more responsive we will be as a society to the restoration of Indigenous jurisdiction over this land.
The fourth recommendation is to advance land back practices within the municipality by:
- Making decolonization public by hosting a series of dialogues intended for citizens in partnership with TteS, similar to Victoria’s Reconciliation Dialogues
- Launching a program to rename places in Kamloops to their Secwépemc name, similar to Haida initiatives that resulted in the renaming of Queen Charlotte to Daajing Giids
- Implementing a voluntary or suggest land taxation system that would flow to Secwepemc communities, similar to Victoria’s initiative with Reciprocity Trust
The City of Kamloops has already shown a strong commitment to decolonizing the municipality through the creation of an action plan that outlines how it is addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action. This has laid a solid foundation for advancing Land Back initiatives. With the election around the corner we have an opportunity to renew and deepen our commitment, as citizens and as a local government to the restitution of Indigenous rights and title and the restoration of human relationships with each other and with the land.
KFPC’s Recommendations for Decolonizing the Municipality
- Formally recognize oral and written Indigenous law, and comply with Indigenous decisions, directives and resolutions when it comes to shared regional issues
- Pursue opportunities to transition government land to Indigenous control
- Support Secwépemc-specific education, curriculum and citizen reflection and learning
- Implement and promote municipal Land Back practices such as decolonization dialogues, a Secwépemc renaming program, and voluntary land taxes
KFPC is a mostly settler led organization engaged in the ongoing practice of decolonizing our practices. We are part of a learning journey and this blog article reflects some highlights from our recent Land Back book club as well as conversations with Indigenous partners and local Indigenous led-organizations, who we are grateful for discussions and idea sharing with. We expect this to be an ongoing learning journey and that our recommendations for increasing Indigenous Food Sovereignty, as well as Indigenous jurisdiction as a part of municipal action will evolve over time.