It was the shared interests that brought them together.
Public health, policing, and homelessness were on the agenda when Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove sat down recently with reps from the First Nations Health Council and Fraser Health.
It was a meeting a long time in the making.
“During my election campaign I said over and over that we need to work on building bridges with First Nations,” said Mayor Popove.
It was a pillar of his platform from the get-go.
“We’ve needed to do it, and I think working together we can accomplish a lot more than we otherwise would working in silos.”
The mayor said he thinks it may even be possible to get at the root of some of the challenges the community is facing by working together on shared projects, especially where First Nations are concerned, and/or over-represented.
Indigenous people constitute six per cent of the B.C. population but they are often the majority in terms of those living on the street, Popove said, and that fact comes up often at Chilliwack Healthier Community meetings, which he co-chairs. First Nations people have traditionally been woefully over-represented in prison and in ministry care as well.
The parties came out of the meeting resolving to strengthen relationships and work toward “shifting” the conversation in the big picture.
“Maybe we can get together more often to make that shift,” Popove added.
For too long there’s been a functional “disconnect” between City of Chilliwack and the nine Sto:lo communities that surround it, agreed Grand Chief Doug Kelly, chair of the FNHC.
The initial meeting last month brought together Fraser Salish Health Council reps Willie Charlie, Derek Hansom and Doug Kelly, as well as Carolyn Neufeld from Fraser Health and Mayor Popove.
“We also spoke about the importance of building on and improving the relationships between the City of Chilliwack and Sto:lo Chiefs and Councils in the Chilliwack area,” Chief Kelly said.
They’re making future plans in that regard, too.
“We enjoyed a good meal, a healthy dialogue, and Derek Hansom and I agreed to work on setting up a meeting between the Sto:lo Chiefs and Mayor Popove to explore opportunities to strengthen relationships and identify projects or initiatives of mutual interest.”
The grand chief said he came out of the experience buoyed by the potential.
“I am very excited about the willingness of Mayor Popove to engage with Sto:lo leadership and to seek out opportunities to work together,” said Kelly.