City councils in Northern B.C. face allegations of racism

New group called Matriarchs in Training hope to change the political landscape.

In 2018, Jessica McCallum-Miller was elected the first Indigenous councillor and the youngest for the City of Terrace in northern British Columbia.

It was a proud moment for the member of the Gitxsan Nation with relations to Nisga’a, Cree and Wet’suwet’en Nations.

But she says from the start, she faced opposition on issues she felt were important to her and surrounding First Nation communities.

“There were some very derogatory comments made by a city councillor that was my colleague about surrounding First Nations, and I became irate, and I become upset, the rest of council was very complacent with his behaviour,” she shared.

McCallum-Miller says she proposed cultural training with the local Tsimshian First Nation.

She said there was unanimous support, but due to Covid-19, the training was unable to take place in 2020.

So earlier this year, McCallum-Miller resigned.

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Jessica McCallum-Miller says she resigned because of racism on the City of Terrace council. Photo: Lee Wilson/APTN.

McCallum-Miller grew up in Kispiox in northwest, B.C. She says she had a passion for politics at a young age.

When she was in high school, she started a student council for youth.

“I saw that we needed really positive and dynamic changes even for our student body, I started fundraising, and I started a student council,” she said.

“I started pulling other youth into these postie activities just so we had more positive outlets.”

McCallum-Miller shares her story with APTN News standing in front of an MMIWG Commemoration Memorial Police on Highway 16 near Terrace.

She says there was conflict and attitude from council after she did an interview at the city council on violence against Indigenous women.

She says an ethics complaint was filed against her by a councillor and she was threatened to be barred from speaking to the media and put on leave.

In February 2021, McCallum-Miller resigned from the city council to protect her mental health.

“For me to beat all of the odds and get into a position to lead my people and help protect women on the Highway of Tears,” she stated. “Working on  raising awareness and to be completely silenced, that broke me spiritually.”

McCallum-Miller posted her resignation letter on social media and received support from Indigenous leaders, including the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.

“I was suicidal,” she says. “I am okay now my spirit is healing, but it’s that kind of racialized censorship, that kind of colonial power structure that indigenous people have to deal with constantly.”

APTN News asked the City of Terrace about McCallum-Miller’s experience.

In an email, Mayor Carol Leclerc says the city completed training with local First Nations.

“So far, we have met with Darlene Morgan, CAO for Gitlaxt’aamiks Village Government, and Dr. M. Jane Smith, who spoke on the Gitxsan culture,” her statement read.

“The RDKS has planned for 4 additional sessions with other local First Nations over the next several months, and we look forward to participating. In addition, Council took part in a day-long “Diversity and Inclusion” workshop in February this year with KVI. It was a good opportunity for our Council to learn and reflect.”

McCallum Miller is now sharing her support for Richard Mineault, a Treaty 8 member running for a village of Pouce Coupe council seat on northeastern B.C.

In early 2021, The Pouce Coupe Mayor Lorraine Michetti faced calls for her resignation after racially incentive posts became public.

The mayor did not resign, but several councillors did step down, leaving a seat open for an election on Sept. 18.

In an emailed statement to APTN, Michetti states she’s completed cultural sensitivity training.

Mineault says he’s one of the mayor’s harshest critics and the past six months have been difficult.

“The personal attacks, the signs I have had to go to the police station twice to put some information in a while that have opened. All of these things that have happened to me in the last six months are a direct result of my challenging a person who is deemed to be a racist politician,” he says.

Mineault says people have shown up to his work and tried to get him fired.

“I have had troubling accusations thrown at me, I have had signs made put outside my building, and people are driving around with signs disparaging my name,” he says.

He says he’s still committed to moving ahead in the election and hopes to create change and bringing awareness to Indigenous issues.

“I will not back down; I will continue to run, from what I am gathering in the Village of Pouce Coupe, he shared. “I do have a lot of support, enough support where I am confident that I have a very good chance of gaining a seat on that council.”

Jessica-McCallum Miller is now part of a grass-roots group based in Terrace known as Matriarchs in Training.

She sees similarities in the challenges Richard Mineault is facing running for the city council in his northern community.

She is calling on those in power to stop fighting marginalized people and start supporting them.

“If you see someone who is marginalized, who has enough strength to lift other people up, don’t silence them, amplify their voice if you have the privilege to amplify other peoples voices, please do so,” she stated.

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