The Vancouver Park Board has passed a motion to begin exploring what "co-management" of its lands with the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations would look like but how much it might matter is open to debate.
"There are no perceived outcomes at this point. It's simply sitting down and initiating this conversation," said park board chair Stuart Mackinnon, who put forward the motion that passed Monday.
Mackinnon went on to point out how the park board co-manages community centres with local associations, along with the VanDusen Botanical Garden, and mentioned how the District of North Vancouver and Tsleil-Waututh Nation co-manage Cates/Whey-ah-Wichen Park.
"These are not new or unusual ideas," said Mackinnon.
In addition, municipal parks remains under the ownership of the City of Vancouver, and Mackinnon said all legislative responsibility will remain with the park board.
But despite Mackinnon downplaying the significance of his own motion, Indigenous leaders and legal experts are curious to see what comes next.
"We're moving away from just land acknowledgements," said Alexandra Flynn, a UBC law professor who specializes in municipal law and is currently focusing on the legal relationship between First Nations and municipal governments.
Flynn said there are three broad models of co-management available to the park board: one where they make room for interventions by the First Nations through mechanisms like advisory bodies, one where Indigenous communities directly manage the parks themselves and the park board provides the consultative role and one with shared management.
"This is a pretty groundbreaking, in some ways, move. But it would be good to know a bit more about what actually will happen in terms of governance," she said.
Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow called it a "good first step" but said he only learned of the motion when it was announced earlier this month, and that the three nations will need "to do some internal work" before any goals could be set.
But he mentioned Musqueam Park — a City of Vancouver park directly next to the Musqueam's largest reserve — as a place they would like to have more influence. And he said in the long run, there could be potential conversations around giving parkland back to the Musqueam.
"There's more park around our existing reserve than we have reserve land," said Sparrow.
"It's a good opportunity for us to be able to address some of these concerns, and some of these things that hold us down as a community, even housing for our own band members."
Displacement from lands that are now parks
The relationship between Vancouver's parks and local Indigenous people is linked to how the area was settled by Europeans in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Stanley Park was Vancouver's first park but was home to a number of Indigenous settlements that were subsequently evicted by the city. Much of Vanier Park was formerly home to a part of Sen̓áḵw, a Squamish village that was also displaced.
"In my early time on [Musqueam] council, we didn't have much discussion with the parks board at all," said Sparrow.
"Since [being] recognized as a city of reconciliation, that kicked off a lot of dialogue with the parks board, and meetings with councillors, so it's gone a long way in the last five or six years."
Monday's vote passed 5-2, with NPA commissioners John Coupar and Tricia Barker in opposition, citing a desire for more consultation.
"I was very concerned about the process," said Coupar.
"As much as it pains me, because I really do appreciate the spirit … it feels a bit off that we aren't having the public to speak on it."