Statement: Vancouver stands in solidarity with Oppenheimer Tent City

In June of this year, Vancouver’s city council unanimously passed a motion acknowledging that the city sits on the unceded land of the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. The acknowledgement came at the culmination of a “Year of Reconciliation.” Based on the same city council’s response to the indigenous-led community that has sprung up at Oppenheimer Park, it appears this was purely a token gesture.

Oppenheimer Park, now the heart of the Downtown Eastside low-income community, used to be the heart of the Japanese Canadian community which was forcibly displaced during the Second World War. Therefore it seems fitting that this was the site chosen for a reassertion of indigenous sovereignty over unceded land, given how colonial governments have historically treated its residents.

At Oppenheimer Tent City people are governing themselves and in so doing have created another space where the community bonds threatened by gentrification can take root. This community, like all communities, cannot simply be transplanted. The practical reality of community is grounded by a commitment to place and the relations that develop there. Oppenheimer Tent City is a community, rooted in place, where people are taking power back. Residents here are taking direct action to break the cycle of dependency imposed by colonial governments.

Rising Tide Vancouver – Coast Salish Territories stands in solidarity with the residents of Oppenheimer Tent City as they respond to the City’s acknowledgement and the persistent refusal by all levels of government to effectively address Vancouver’s housing crisis. As a group committed to combating the root causes of environmental degradation and climate change, we are committed to looking beyond surface manifestations of the impending environmental catastrophe.

The devastating effects of the resource extraction industry are not distributed equally across populations and indigenous and low-income people suffer the greatest impacts of so-called development. The cost of housing skyrockets everywhere resource extraction accelerates. In this province, housing and rental prices in communities like Kitimat, Terrace, and Smithers (slated to be crisscrossed by pipelines and LNG terminals) are through the roof. Boom-and-bust economies result in additional social pressures on small towns struggling to maintain the sense of identity and social cohesion that marked them as healthy communities in the past. The current rush to extract resources and surplus value is predicated on governments and corporations cheating or forcing indigenous people off their traditional land.

Vancouver, whose residents are at the mercy of capitalist speculation driving astronomical housing and rental prices, is no different. Rapid gentrification is happening everywhere in Vancouver but its effects are most devastating in the Downtown Eastside. These effects have included renovictions, rents far beyond what people on welfare and pensions can afford, and a dramatic drop in the availability of low income housing stock.

We call on the Harper government and all federal political leaders to restore funding for social housing eliminated in 1993 and take immediate action to work with all levels of colonial governments, with the leadership of Coast Salish people and all impacted frontline communities to solve the homelessness and housing crisis running out of control in Vancouver.

We call on Minister Rich Coleman, the Minister of Fracked Gas and Minister of Housing, to take a break from spending taxpayer money on wining and dining representatives of LNG and pipeline companies, and take the “Housing” part of his portfolio seriously. BC Housing needs to come to the table.

We call on the City of Vancouver – which pledged to eliminate homelessness by 2015 – to introduce rent controls, bring to the table those people who actually have the power to effect change instead of issuing empty statements, stop accepting election money from developers, and to materially show Oppenheimer Tent City the respect promised in June’s acknowledgement that this is unceded Coast Salish Territory.

We call on ALL people to confront the colonially imposed authority of Canada and resist the capitalist system that puts corporate profits ahead of housing rights for people. We encourage mutual-aid, community action and grassroots solutions in place of token gestures by governments. There should be no cooperation with the state if these conditions are not met and homelessness and gentrification continue.

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