First Nation councillor in Terrace, B.C., resigns citing racism and barriers to reconciliation  

Mayor to ask B.C. ombudsperson to investigate

Terrace city councillor resigns

Jessica McCallum-Miller wears a traditional cedar hat during a council meeting. Photo: Facebook


The youngest and only First Nation councillor in the city of Terrace, B.C., has resigned citing racism and resistance to reconciliation.

“Systemic and Internalized Racism as well as Sexism had played a role in the inability of my Colleagues to respect and understand my personal and diverse perspectives,” Jessica McCallum-Miller, who is Gitxsan, Nisga’a and Tsimshian, said in a public statement on Facebook Monday.

“Due to this, in March of 2020 my mental health and Spiritual well-being had suffered so much that I almost took my own life.”

McCallum-Miller, who did not respond to requests for an interview, made history when she was first elected in 2018 at the age of 25.

But, she said in her statement, she decided to resign after difficulty persuading the  Terrace council to participate in cultural awareness training with the Tsimshian people.

Jessica McCallum-Miller in her official City of Terrace photo.

“I felt unheard, I felt spoken over, I questioned whether truth and reconciliation was being honoured or was a priority for our community,” said McCallum-Miller.

“This is a reality many Indigenous People’s throughout Canada are sadly accustomed to as we are still suffering from the Generational effects of Residential Schooling and may not be treated equally or given the same opportunities as other non-indigenous Canadians.”

Terrace Mayor Carol Leclerc posted a statement noting her council was better for McCallum-Miller’s participation.

“It was really sad news to get that resignation,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

Leclerc confirmed there was disagreement on council about the focus of the cultural-awareness training but said the session is booked for March.

Responsible

“She is certainly responsible for initiating that,” Leclerc added.

Gladys Radek, a nationally recognized First Nation’s activist living in Terrace, was upset to hear what her “adopted granddaughter” experienced.

“Up here in Terrace there’s tons and tons of racism. And it comes from the top,” said Radek, who is Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en.

“Every time she tried to build that bridge for reconciliation they would shut her down.”

McCallum-Miller said she enjoyed working with the staff at the city of Terrace and thanked voters for supporting her.

Terrace’s history 

“As the youngest and only Indigenous person elected to serve in Terrace’s history thus far, I have personally found the role of Councillor very challenging– in my belief, due to my ethnic background, age and gender…,” she said in her statement.

“I can no longer endure the Mental and Spiritual hardships of explaining this and ultimately being unsupported by those I work with.”

McCallum-Miller said she hoped her resignation showed the need to listen to and respect marginalized voices for their diversity and lived experiences. She also encouraged more Indigenous peoples to become part of municipal politics.

Leclerc said McCallum-Miller’s allegations of “systemic and internalized racism and the sexism” were worthy of a deeper look.

“I’ve asked council to have a meeting this week to (see) if we could have the ombudsperson from B.C. come and do an investigation about the comments,” the mayor said.

“Those are pretty significant words, and I think it wold be important to have a third party look at this.”

Investigative Reporter / Winnipeg

Award-winning reporter Kathleen Martens covers western and northern Canada for aptnnews.ca. A veteran of the Brandon Sun, Sun Media and APTN Investigates, she is based in APTN’s head office, specializing in stories about property, women’s rights and community.