Roundtable 6: Colonization and Discrimination


For thousands of years before contact with European explorers and later settlers, the Musqueam, Tslei-Waututh and Squamish First Nations had vibrant cities and communities in what is now Vancouver. First contact included exposure to European diseases (smallpox, chicken pox, measles, mumps, syphilis, and gonorrhea) that decimated Indigenous communities. New technologies (guns and metal pots) and knowledge were welcomed, but interference with their language, religion and culture, particularly through the imposition of residential schools, and the exploitation of their land base, left them insurmountably disadvantaged.

In the light of this history, of what we now call genocide, the City and others have been taking steps to address past wrongs and move forward to establish a more equitable and just city. Progressive settler groups; the Chinese, Japanese, Black immigrants, Indians and other visible minorities were in turn discriminated against.

  • How is it possible to redress the systemic discrimination that could lead to the atrocity of murdered and missing Indigenous women?
  • What does a city free of discrimination that has seriously addressed its colonial history look like? Can we learn from other places?
  • What are the intergenerational and gendered impacts of discrimination and colonization?
  • What partnerships need to be built to achieve an equitable and just city?
  • What progress have the City and other community groups made to address issues of discrimination and colonization that can be further built on?
  • What are the barriers that still need to be addressed to support the vision of a City for All?

Roundtable Discussion

The table had eleven participants largely from community organizations with a focus on Indigenous, immigrant and refugee communities, inequality and marginalization, in addition to the table lead, Penny Kerrigan, from the former Urban Indigenous Peoples Advisory Committee, and notetaker, Meghan Hunter. The roundtable discussed the ongoing effects of colonization on both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Vancouver and across Turtle Island. Forced assimilation to patriarchal European values in previous centuries continues to have negative effects on us all. Many people do not know that they have been impacted by colonization because it is all they have ever known. Reconciliation is insufficient, we must decolonize. Decolonization does not mean deporting all non-Indigenous people, it means centering Indigenous voices and returning to Indigenous values.

Though none of us were alive before colonization, and much Indigenous culture has been forcibly erased and oral histories lost, we know that many pre-contact Indigenous groups were matrilineally structured, with women making key decisions for their communities. The first European colonizers (all of whom were men) refused to meet with women, insisting that the men must be in charge. This devaluation of Indigenous and other women continues, and results in continued trauma, abuse, and violence perpetrated against women and children. The worst atrocity committed by colonizers was that they [had the absolute nerve to] abused the children.

Vision (tip of pyramid) rests on values (middle) and institutional support (bottom).
Prepared by Roundtable 6.

Unequal distribution of funds regarding child welfare and removal of children from their parents and their culture is a continuation of genocide. Decolonization begins in education and empowering youth. How can the city facilitate that? Another question that needs to be addressed is, are we addressing any of the root causes of discrimination/colonization or are we just strengthening the edges? We are a part of the system. What can we do within the system, right now, today, that can have a positive generational impact?

Key Findings

  • The Elders are the experts. In a colonial world, formally educated doctors, social workers etc. are positioned as experts. To decolonize, we must recognize the wisdom of lived experience.
  • Education keeps our shared history present.
  • Accountability and oversight is critical to move towards decolonization: What does it actually look like, at a policy level, to hold the system accountable to address colonial violence?
  • Relational accountability and allyship.
  • We need a more holistic, spiritually informed way of governance.
  • Culture is healing. Culture and art groups can also create awareness and change.
  • Vancouver is falling behind in reconciliation because they haven’t created an Indigenous department. Claims that reconciliation would be integrated into every department have clearly proved false. It is the only city in Canada with standing at the Inquiry on Murdered and Missing Women and it chose not to intervene.
  • Changing the culture of the city to an Indigenous one – a reversal of assimilation would mean creating a culture of shared learning and “Radical integration” with cultures meeting on an equal footing.
  • The Truth and Reconciliation Committee claimed that there was a cultural genocide, but the Inquiry on Murdered and Missing Women finds that it was (and continues to be) literal genocide.
  • Subversive methods of communication – #metoo, #IdleNoMore, create discussion outside of the system. Social media is probably the most effective way to create revolution outside systems because it is the only thing that can transcend the systems.


Norm Leech, Executive Director, Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Centre
  • Adopt an Indigenous Charter for the City of Vancouver. All policy would then have to be altered over time in keeping with the charter.
  • Properly fund and support the City’s Indigenous People’s Commission so that it can meet monthly rather than 4 times per year, and so that it has permanent status rather than being dissolved every time there is a new government.
  • Make the Indigenous ombudsperson’s role at the city level permanent.

Related Initiatives

The Hogan’s Alley Society came into being to advocate for the rights of black Vancouverites who have endured the legacies of urban renewal and their erasure from the official historical narrative. The Hogan’s Alley Society aspires to function as an umbrella organization to connect black art, cultural and social events and initiatives in the city of Vancouver.

Organize BC is dedicated to accelerating progressive movement through four programs focused on story-telling, community organizing, digital organizing and inclusive movement building. It provides training, coaching and community building.

The Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Centre works in partnership with Aboriginal community members, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organizations, and all levels of government. It was created to address social justice issues, improve safety for Aboriginal people and build the relationship between the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) and the Aboriginal community through education, awareness and open dialogue. It seeks to provide resources, services and programs that support the safety and security of Vancouver’s Aboriginal community.

Vancouver Association for Survivors of Torture (VAST) supports refugee mental health through counselling, documentation, education, and referrals. It has specific programs on “Getting Through It’ supporting refugees in getting through their refugee claim, and also a Refugee Readiness Project that provides training and education for health and social service providers working with refugees in BC.

The Discourse is a women-led digital news media company that brings together journalists, members and partners to provide in-depth journalism to communities underserved by media based on deep listening to people who are often excluded from public and political dialogue.

MODUS works with local and regional governments, provincial agencies, crown corporations, non-profits, universities, community groups, school boards, libraries and progressive developers to help make communities more sustainable, more welcoming, and more equitable for all. address critical issues and make a difference. Its services include planning, urban design, engagement, organizational development and social planning.

SFU Urban Studies is a multi- and interdisciplinary program that addresses critical urban issues through engaged education and research. Courses include many of the topics of social justice in the urban context.

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