Judge set to be sworn in as B.C.'s first aboriginal lieutenant governor
- Judge set to be sworn in as B.C.'s first aboriginal lieutenant governor
Sun Sep 30, 12:51 PM
By Scott Sutherland, The Canadian Press
VICTORIA - Stephen Point will become British Columbia's first aboriginal lieutenant-governor on Monday and the irony and poetic justice of his appointment aren't lost on him.
But the former chief and provincial court judge isn't dwelling on past affronts or present ones, and instead says his appointment is a humbling example of how far aboriginal people have come.
"Reconciliation isn't just something that's just going to take place in courtrooms, I hope, and certainly not going to take place in negotiating rooms, but rather in the broader community, amongst all British Columbians," Point said in an interview.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the appointment in early September after consultation with B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, who sees the choice of a member of the First Nations community as hugely significant.
"It says all kinds of positive things about what's happening in British Columbia - how the Crown, the government of Canada and the province feel about reconciliation," the premier said.
Grand Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit, noted Point will serve in stark contrast to the first person in the post, Sir Joseph Trutch, appointed in 1871.
"He basically said Indians were no better than dogs, (reflecting) an attitude of the day that has been largely prevalent in this country's history and reflected and applied in this country's institutions," John said.
The appointment is a milestone, John said, but it's also a contrast to the position Harper's government took this month at the United Nations.
On Sept. 13, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by an overwhelming majority. The declaration was 20 years in the making.
Canada was one of four countries to vote against it, a decision John said shocked and angered First Nations, who are calling for Canada to step down from its position on the UN Human Rights council.
Point wasn't interested in commenting on politics, though.
"The government is the government. It has to take the policies and the positions it believes in," he said.
"I'm prepared to move forward in the current environment knowing full well that things aren't always as rosy and happy as we'd like them to be.
"But it affords us an opportunity, and a responsibility in my view, to try to bring about positive change."
One of Point's first jobs as lieutenant governor will be to bring the first modern-day treaty with an urban First Nation, the Tsawwassen just south of Vancouver, into law.
The treaty goes before the legislature for debate and approval when the fall sitting gets underway in two weeks.
Point was 23 years old when first elected chief of the Skowkale First Nation in B.C.'s Fraser Valley, a position he held for 15 years.
For the last five of those years he also served as tribal chairman of the Sto:lo Nation, until his appointment in 1999 as a B.C. provincial court judge.
He left the bench in early 2005 to take on the role of chief commissioner of the B.C. Treaty Commission, which has spent 10 years and more than $1 billion attempting to resolve scores of land claims in the province.
More than half of about 200 First Nations, or two-thirds of First Nations in British Columbia, are represented at one of the continuing negotiations in the B.C. treaty process.
Forty are negotiating so-called agreements-in-principle while four are working on final agreements.
John said Point is a man of great dignity and humility.
"People are asking what to call him, Your Excellency or Your Honour," said John to representatives of bands from across the province who paid tribute to Point at a large meeting of the First Nations Summit in Squamish, B.C.
"My view is we should call him Your Humbleness."
Point said he appreciates the confidence his appointment indicates and was heartened by the province's commitment to a new relationship with aboriginal people.
"I was so, so pleased he'd (Campbell) taken that route," Point said.
"It's one that's going to bring about a tremendous amount of healing between our communities."
He also said he hopes other aboriginal people see his appointment as an effort by the province to invite them to take part in the greater society.
Point replaces the popular and indefatigable Iona Campagnolo, 76, a Trudeau-era Liberal cabinet minister who stayed on in the five-year post for an extra year at Harper's request.
A life-long Liberal before taking on the strictly apolitical role, Campagnolo took part in about 350 public appearances annually.
Two separate 15-gun salutes fired by members of the 5th B.C. Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, and a 100-member Royal Guard of Honour will formally mark the transition.
Dignitaries and their guests from all levels of government, First Nations, the Canadian Armed Forces, the judiciary and friends and family of the new Queen's representative have been invited to attend the ceremony at the B.C. legislature.
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