The Senakw development in Kitsilano is a historic step towards reconciliation between First Nations people and the Canadian Government. It is directly related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action number 92. Nevertheless, the project has been overshadowed by lawsuits and concerns over its impact on the Vancouver landscape. 

The territory originally belonging to the Squamish Nation was taken by the government and residents forcibly removed in 1913. However, in 2003 the Federal Court of Canada returned 10.5 acres of the once 80 acres of land. The name Senakw is a Squamish noun translating to “The place inside the head of False Creek”. For meaningful reconciliation to occur, the Squamish Nation must obtain some degree of power. 

The development is the largest First Nations economic project in Canadian history. One aim of the Squamish Nation is to earn full economic independence. The large scale and scope will contribute continual income for the nation. Furthermore, the project will support more services for indigenous eldercare, education, and language and culture support. This includes supplying homes for Squamish members. Moreover, Senakw provides employment and training opportunities for First Nation people. 

The design of the development aspires to leave a lasting legacy for the Squamish people in Vancouver. The project will include community services, a sustainable transportation system and both indoor and outdoor community spaces. The buildings will feature a combination of free-formed and more rigid structures, which will represent unity and reflect the coming together of reconciliation. The Squamish Nation described it as a place where “humanity and nature co-exist”. The design incorporates indigenous values and will use timber, a traditional material for the Squamish people. 

The collaboration between the Canadian Government and the Squamish Nation will have reciprocal benefits. Chris Lewis, traditional name Syeta’xtn, of the Squamish Nation described it as the incorporation of culture with the intention to be good neighbors and help the city of

Vancouver. Senakw has the potential to highlight the positive impact indigenous people have on Canada. The development demonstrates reconciliation must not be zero-sum. Likewise, the residential development is predicted to ameliorate the housing crisis in Vancouver. The indigenous-led initiative can integrate the Squamish Nation with Vancouver society in a meaningful way. 

Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau commented that “Everyone should have a safe place to call home. Today’s announcement not only builds more much-needed homes for Vancouverites, it supports the Squamish Nation’s vision for their traditional lands and their path to continued economic independence and self-determination. When we all work together as partners – federal and Indigenous governments, private sector, local communities – we innovate, and we find solutions to the challenges we face.”. Additionally, the First Nation Leadership Council (FNLC) has ensured its full support for the Squamish Nation. 

Although the Kits Point Residents Association composed a petition and some raised concerns about a lack of consultation, the project toward reconciliation remains on track. The FNLC described the confrontation as “insulting and tone deaf to the reconciliation agenda”.

Sophia is a high school student at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School in the IB program and is taking a class in Contemporary Indigenous Studies. 

Last modified: May 12, 2023

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