The Musqueam in another light

Update, August 3, 2011: The Richmond News has published essentially this post with the fitting title “Musqueam made us feel truly welcome.”

I often detect goodwill toward the Musqueam people when Richmond people talk about the future of the Garden City lands. For example, they’ll suggest teaming with the Musqueam and other First Nations to plan interpretive features of a restored ecological area.

In a way, the goodwill is surprising. That’s because the Musqueam Indian Band is still suing the city for more money despite getting about $22 million from the price we citizens paid to buy the lands.

Lately, though, I’ve gained a firsthand sense of grounds for goodwill.

It began with the death of Patrick Buckley, a longtime Richmond resident and friend. Pat, who was Métis with Cree lineage, played music and sang at the little Musqueam church for 33 years. Last Friday, he was laid to rest in the Musqueam cemetery.

The all-day hospitality was incredible. For the funeral, Musqueam volunteers transformed their gymnasium into a large church for about four hundred guests. Later, while many of us were at the cemetery, they turned that gym church into a dining hall and set out a salmon feast for all.

Three-quarters of us there were visitors to Musqueam, and we received constant welcoming, thanks, and expressions of respect. Near the end, we gave a standing ovation to the Musqueam people, especially the many who worked so hard to enable everything to go well.

Musqueam elders made Pat’s two young-adult daughters a centre of attention when praising their father, and they were protective but deferential toward the young women. The sensitivity was just right.

It was a both a religious event and a Musqueam cultural event, each aspect with its own leaders. The pervasive respect made the cooperation seamless and joyful.

It helped that the focus was on someone who had an endless smile and readiness to share others’ burdens despite his physical disabilities, painful experiences, and lack of material things. And it says a lot about the Musqueam that they embraced his altruism, accepted him as one of them, and ultimately welcomed a crowd of strangers who cared like them.


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