5 Questions: Chris (Syeta’xtn) Lewis, Squamish Nation councillor and spokesperson

Chris (Syeta'xtn) Lewis, Squamish Nation councillor and spokesperson, outlines his vision for his community as well as for the province

One of the forces behind the powerful MST Development Corp. outlines his vision for his community as well as for the province

How much has the Squamish Nation changed since you were first elected councillor in December 2009?

When I first got elected, it was right on the eve of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Everybody was happy—it was celebratory times, our nation was being recognized as a nation state, and there was collaboration between the four host nations. But one of the greatest things I’ve seen since then was building on that excitement of the 2010 Games and the relationship between the host nations—the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh, and the Lil’wat in Pemberton. Building on that energy was the catalyst for the creation to the MST brand and MST Development Corporation. We saw the power and the benefit of working together.

And now MST is one of the province’s most powerful organizations. How will it wield that power?

Where the power comes from is the courage and willingness and ability for the First Nations to come together for the collective good of all of our communities—it’s transformational. We all have our differences, but we also fall on our teachings from long ago to say, What did we do when raiders came to our communities? How did we defend our territories? And all of our teachings say that we would band together because we were tied through kinship, through relations. It’s for the collective, and we’ve built on that because we’re living in a system that has divided us over the last 50 years.

I think about the 150 years of resiliency and tenacity and generations of effort from the collective three nations to get our land back. What do we do with that responsibility, with that opportunity? It’s our responsibility, like our ancestors did 150 years ago, to create a legacy of benefits and prosperity for the next 150 years.

MST, along with the City of Vancouver, advocated for the Broadway Subway Project to go to UBC, to no avail. Is that a missed opportunity?

Absolutely. I think the provincial and federal governments need to fund transit expansion to help us build a better community. Vancouver is a postmodern city where there’s no major highway coming into the downtown core. So we need to figure out how we move people, and I think these long-term investments around the Broadway Subway to UBC could really improve connections throughout the city. There’s no better time to invest in our city and get strategic investment around that to foster the growth of Vancouver, UBC and our nations, not just from a Squamish perspective, from an MST perspective. We’re in a strategic position where we own the Jericho Lands and can also be a part of the solution and creation of a more sustainable kind of city.

How do you rate John Horgan’s job as premier? Were you happy to see his NDP government win a majority?

We seek to have positive working relationships with all levels of government, based on respect for nations’ rights. As it relates to the NDP or John Horgan’s performance, I think they need to follow through on their commitments to Indigenous Peoples. With UNDRIP, they had the big legislation that passed unanimously in Victoria. But now they have to provide some clarity in terms of what it actually means, and it involves treating Indigenous communities like true governments; it involves dealing with the unresolved land question and returning land back to Indigenous communities like MST.  

What are the biggest challenges facing your nation?

Just like anybody else, we have COVID-related challenges with how we continually engage with our community and provide support. The nation is doing online engagement, reaching out to elders, connecting with all demographics and spending a lot of time on that. But one of the things as a leader that keeps me up at night is ensuring that, when it’s all done, every nation benefits from these opportunities like MST and Sen’ákw [the site of a Squamish Nation housing development] through employment training, business procurement and business incubation.

When we think about massive projects and real estate aspects, we want to be plugging our community members into that and developing a workforce strategy to ensure that we’re identifying all the people and telling our youth, Hey go get your business degree, get your architectural degree, all those things. That’s one of the biggest challenges, ensuring that we’re developing and fostering capacity into the future so that our nation can occupy the field in 10 to 20 years’ time.

Previously: Board member, MST Development Corp.; policy adviser, BC Assembly of First Nations

Last book I read: The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

Favourite TV showThe Big Bang Theory

Hobby: Hunting and fishing

Favourite concerts: U2 and the Killers

Favourite spot in B.C.: Backcountry of Squamish and the Sea-to-Sky Corridor