Village of Chase changes course, approves 'Every Child Matters' project | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Village of Chase changes course, approves 'Every Child Matters' project

Adams Lake councillor Shelly Witzky and Neskonlith chief Irvin Wai voiced their support for an "Every Child Matters" crosswalk in Chase as the village council revisited the project on Sept. 26, 2023.

Irvin Wai was just an infant when he was adopted and spared from the Indian residential school system.

Now Kukpi7 (chief) of the Neskonlith Indian Band, he acknowledged that his last name may seem unusual for an Indigenous man, but he said it's what spared him from the residential school system.

"I was adopted by my grandmother and she married a Chinese man. He saved my life basically by giving me his last name so the residential school couldn't take me away," said Wai, who spent his childhood away from his own community.

For Wai, the Village of Chase's now-reverted vote to deny a painted crosswalk to commemorate Indian residential school students was "heartbreaking," especially as communities are still reeling from the radar work discovering suspected graves in Kamloops and other work that continues in First Nations communities.

READ MORE: Adams Lake First Nation goes ahead with own reconciliation crosswalk after Village of Chase refusal

"Racism for us is real," he said. "It's hard to get out of bed everyday knowing somebody somewhere is going to target one of us... So this crosswalk is really a small thing with major implications."

The Village worked with three First Nations bands in the area for more than a year, planning an "Every Child Matters" crosswalk, but it was voted down at a council meeting earlier this month.

Wai said it was made worse because he wasn't aware the Village opted not to approve the project until he read news coverage of the decision roughly a week later.

"We're not going anywhere. You're not going anywhere. We have to live together and our three First Nations provide a lot to the economy of Chase," Wai said. "To see the signage on the street not being painted, it really hurt our feelings to say the least. We want to build relationships and I thought we were getting there, but this is a direct slap in the face."

It's a "small ask for a big thing," Wai said, of the $625 in tax money needed for the project.

It was initially denied because of two opposing votes. One was from Coun. Collin Connett, who told he was concerned about the cost. After first saying he would not comment on why he opposed the crosswalk, he then said it was because he believed the ongoing maintenance costs would be too great. He didn't articulate why that would be different than any other crosswalk.

The other, Coun. Fred Torbohm, refused to comment when contacted by earlier this month.

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At the Sept. 26 council meeting, the crosswalk was approved, and they both said they would have preferred a mural or banners rather than a crosswalk.

Adams Lake Coun. Shelley Witzky refuted their concerns about costs, saying the Bands could seek grant funding for ongoing maintenance, then suggested they could go through with the crosswalk and later look at doing a mural or adding banners along light stands.

"Whether it's a mural or banners, I would say, why not all three?" she said.

Both Witzky and Wai joined the meeting to voice their disappointment at the previous vote, hoping council would have a change of heart after Mayor David Lepsoe brought it back for a second attempt.

Around twenty members of the community joined the meeting, too. The opposition to the symbolic crosswalk was drowned out by several people who stood to say they were "appalled" council would deny the opportunity both to commemorate victims and survivors of the Indian residential school system and strengthen its ties with three neighbouring Indigenous communities.

The now-approved crosswalk is expected to be similar to the one in downtown Kamloops, which is painted orange with black feathers.

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Connett gave the sole opposing vote, frustrated that he wasn't in previous meetings to discuss exactly what the "Every Child Matters" project would be and even more by hecklers from the gallery. He stood by his suggestion that a mural would be a better option.

"I've never heard any discussion with this whatsoever, we've never had one meeting with this. Maybe you guys have had a bloody meeting, but we haven't. Now we look like a bunch of prized pricks," he said.

Although Connett said he wasn't aware of the project, planning has been in the works for more than a year, initiated with the three Bands by former Chase Coun. Alison Lauzon. It was put on hold until discussions started up again in June between Adams Lake Indian Band and Lepsoe.

"To me the crosswalk is a symbol of our village coming together with our Secwepemc friends and neighbours. It's also an important step for our village to acknowledge our path toward reconciliation," Coun. Jane Herman said. "Personally, I believe even if we were responsible for the full cost, I would still be in favour."

Adams Lake, Neskonlith and Skwlax te Secwepemculecw (formerly Little Shuswap Indian Band) are splitting the costs of the crosswalk with the village after a 4-1 vote.

It's not clear exactly where it will be or when it will be painted.

Lepsoe said he was pleased about the final decision after deciding it should return to the council table once more, adding that it's a positive step for all four communities as they try to work together.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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