When former Snuneymuxw councillor Bill Yoachim saw Nanaimo’s civic election results, he knew history had been made.
“I was like, speechless, emotional…and not to be that guy, but we made history,” said Yoachim, who is considered the first candidate of Snuneymuxw descent to claim a city council seat. “My reaction went right to the old people who fought and were resilient to make this happen.”
Yoachim, who resigned as a Snuneymuxw councillor to take take his position at the city council table Monday, emerged as the second-highest vote getter in the civic election in a time when he says it’s becoming more of a norm for First Nations people to enter mainstream politics.
This year, Geraldine Manson, a Snuneymuxw elder, ran for a city council seat, and Nanoose First Nation councillor Natasha Bob ran and won a school trustee position after an unsuccessful bid to represent the New Democrats in the 2015 federal election. For a story on Bob, please see page 5.
It’s an “exciting, interesting time,” said Yoachim, who considers the movement of First Nations people into mainstream politics as a part of healing, reconciliation and ‘being one’ and hopes to see more of it.
As the son of a German-Canadian father and Snuneymuxw mother, city resident and politician of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, Yoachim, 44, sees himself connected to both worlds and aims to bridge relationships between the First Nation and city. As one, he believes the communities can become stronger with the ability to work on projects like Newcastle Island and the Nanaimo waterfront for the betterment of everyone – but he admits, there will be challenges.
A divide has existed between the First Nation and City of Nanaimo for generations. In recent years, there has been political friction over treaty rights, like in 2012 when the Snuneymuxw threatened legal action against the City of Nanaimo for a potential water licence deal with Harmac.
At times the cause is the lack of communication and education for what each community is about, but it also stems from racism and colonialism, according to Yoachim. His grandfather, Alfred Wyse wasn’t accepted or permitted to walk on Commercial Street and his mother wasn’t allowed – by rule or intolerance – on the main floor of the ferry that used to run from downtown Nanaimo.
This week, Yoachim takes his seat with aims of transparency, dialogue and pulling all corners of the city together – a position he attributes to the strength of his ancestors. While he received some hate e-mails and vandalism during the campaign, he’s motived by the people who did vote for him.
“I want to show … there is another beautiful society out there that wants to work together. ”
Former Snuneymuxw chief Doug White calls it a historic moment for relations.
“It shows that our society overall is maturing and has really grown past the days where we see our communities as isolated from each other and as silos. It’s a reflection of the manifestation of the idea that we matter to each other and that we are all in this together and we need to work together to create a society that reflects the best of us.”