Opinion: Senakw is a step forward in Vancouver's journey of reconciliation

Sep 29 2022, 4:09 pm

Written for Daily Hive Urbanized by Khelsilem, the Chairperson of the Squamish Nation Council, and Mindy Wight, the CEO of the Nch’kaỷ Development Corporation.


One day in the not-so-distant future, the community that includes Vanier Park, the Kitsilano Indian Reserve, and the adjacent streets around Burrard Street to 1st Avenue to Creekside Park will be described as the Sen̓áḵw neighbourhood of Vancouver.

This future reflects the truth and history of this land, which saw the Government of Canada confine our Squamish ancestors to small patches of land. The federal government allocated 80 acres in this area for their daily use and enjoyment. Then, in 1913, Squamish families were forcibly removed when the land was annexed by the City of Vancouver and the federal and provincial governments.

Only after a decades-long legal battle and a 2003 court decision did we see a small 10.5-acre portion of Sen̓áḵw returned to the Squamish People.

Recently, a few critics of the development questioned the legitimacy of this project to contribute to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The criticism fails to acknowledge this unprecedented achievement and the extensive list of benefits the Squamish Nation is choosing to contribute to the City.

“Reconciliation is a journey, always beginning with the first step and when that step is completed, you take the next. The journey unfolds bit by bit, block by block. When that rhythm kicks in, you know that the process of reconciliation is underway….” said Chief Robert Joseph, a residential school survivor, elder, and hereditary gi’game (“beloved leader”) of the Gwawa̱ʼenux̱w tribe and author of the book Namwayut — A Pathway to Reconciliation. The Sen̓áḵw development is a step forward for our city.

senakw squamish nation vancouver september 2022

September 2022 artistic rendering of the refined detailed design of Senakw: perspective looking southeast from Sunset Beach. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish Nation)

senakw squamish nation vancouver september 2022

September 2022 artistic rendering of the refined detailed design of Senakw: perspective looking south from the North False Creek seawall. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish Nation)

The Squamish Nation is not required to follow municipal regulations, policies and standards, the development application process, or even seek municipal approval for our lands at Sen̓áḵw. If you ask why, it’s for the same reason the City of Port Moody doesn’t have to follow the City of Vancouver’s rules: these are our lands within our jurisdiction, not the City of Vancouver.

As a government, we understand the benefits of this project for our people but also realize the positive impact it will have on our surrounding neighbours.

The development of Sen̓áḵw comes about through a unique collaboration between the Squamish Nation and the City of Vancouver, on a services agreement that addresses the needs of the development but also makes a commitment to significant public benefits.

Through this agreement, we have committed to direct public contributions or practices aligned with City policies and will purchase services from the City at the same rates as elsewhere in the City. In addition to our work with the City, our project team has worked with Metro Vancouver Regional District and the Vancouver Park Board to ensure the project positively contributes toward Vancouver’s goals of becoming a more inclusive and sustainable community.

senakw squamish nation vancouver september 2022

September 2022 artistic rendering of the refined detailed design of Senakw: perspective looking northeast towards Senakw’s bus transit hub on the Burrard Street Bridge. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish Nation)

senakw squamish nation vancouver september 2022

September 2022 artistic rendering of the refined detailed design of Senakw: perspective looking east from Vanier Park. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish Nation)

The services agreement sees our project contributing over $28 million for service upgrades that will serve the broader community. In addition, we are investing $15 million in a new public transit station to better connect the broader community to the rest of the city. This is further complimented by more than 50,000 sq ft of public amenities, including park space and indoor and outdoor recreation space on the unused lands beneath the Burrard Street Bridge.

Even with these contributions, the Nation will still pay for other shared infrastructure through its property taxes.

Our government is acutely aware of the region’s need for more affordable housing. Our project helps to address this by creating 6,077 new rental homes instead of opting for an extensive condominium development.

We have committed 20% of the units to rents at below-average market rents and rents no higher than 30% of the median total income. This generates over 1,200 affordable rental apartments that would otherwise not be produced. For example, in 2021 numbers, this would be around $1,346 for a bachelor apartment, $1,520 for a one-bedroom unit, and $2,104 for a two-bedroom unit. This will all be supported by social infrastructure, including a childcare facility for up to 75 kids and roughly six acres of dedicated publicly accessible spaces, including parks, plazas and spaces for recreation and sport.

We see highly dense but low vehicle development as the future of our city, with plans for 848 vehicle parking stalls. Instead, we’ll design 4,477 secured bike parking spaces that are easily accessible from the Burrard Street Bridge bike lanes.

senakw squamish nation vancouver september 2022

September 2022 artistic rendering of the refined detailed design of Senakw: new public spaces between the towers. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish Nation)

The nature of reconciliation is to start with the truth. It is about time First Nations create value from the tiny parcels of reserve lands we were left with after past racist governments seized nearly everything.

This is also about showing leadership and demonstrating to the world how Indigenous Peoples are influencing Canada positively, as much as Canada has had a profound impact on Indigenous Peoples. We’ve had to change and sacrifice so much of who we are and give up so much of what belongs to us for Canada to exist.

Our development of Sen̓áḵw is as much of a benefit to the City as it is a tool to create wealth from our lands that will enhance the entire community.

Sen̓áḵw’s legitimacy as an effort of reconciliation is evidenced by the broad collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments and the net positive impact we will have on Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

senakw squamish nation vancouver september 2022

September 2022 artistic rendering of the refined detailed design of Senakw: perspective looking north from Vanier Park. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish Nation)

senakw squamish nation vancouver september 2022

September 2022 artistic rendering of the refined detailed design of Senakw: perspective looking northwest from Granville Street near West 4th Avenue. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish Nation)

senakw squamish nation vancouver september 2022

September 2022 artistic rendering of the refined detailed design of Senakw: perspective looking east. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish Nation)

senakw squamish nation vancouver september 2022

September 2022 artistic rendering of the refined detailed design of Senakw: perspective looking east. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish Nation)

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