“There’s no limits to what could happen with the money,” said a City Councillor recently.

Oh goodness, don’t we know it.

The City is exploring the idea of selling naming rights of parks and public spaces to corporations in an effort to reduce a $500 million infrastructure deficit.

In a world where we’re constantly bombarded with advertising and branding, and massive corporations are constantly vying for our eyes, do we really need to let that infiltrate BC’s natural beauty and public spaces?

But more than that, this initiative appears to be at odds with reconciliation…The City is proposing further profiting from the possession of stolen lands. The City was designated a “City of Reconciliation” in 2014. We invite staff, Councillors, and the Mayor alike to reflect on what selling naming rights for stolen lands means in this context. Is selling the naming rights to stolen lands based in reconciliation?

Look, we understand the need to pay for things. And we understand the benefits to partnering with the corporate sector to achieve goals. And as such, we’d like to offer some insight and constructive feedback to our public sector colleagues on the issue.

We’re currently redeveloping our site into an 11-storey purpose-built facility with four floors of community services and seven floors of affordable housing for Indigenous people (operated by Lu’ma Native Housing Society). The price tag for our four floors of services: a whopping $37 million, of $92 million for the whole building.

FIRST UNITED isn’t a massive organization; our operating budget just crept over $5 million this year. We’re well underway with our fundraising efforts for our new building, but that doesn’t detract from how ambitious it is for an organization of our size.

But we made a deliberate choice when we launched our capital campaign: We chose to not sell naming rights to rooms, spaces, or the building itself. This is actually highly unusual in the fundraising and philanthropic space.

All of the spaces in our new building will be named after Indigenous and spiritual roots of the land and Indigenous leaders rather than donors. And because we know that recognition can be meaningful, instead of naming rights, donors have the opportunity to offer dedications for the spaces they help to fund. But those rooms will be known by their Indigenous-based name first, not by the dedication. And that makes a big difference.

For us, this dedication policy is a core component to putting reconciliation in action.

The neighbourhood we serve is comprised of about 30-40% Indigenous People. The soil we’ve built into is stolen, never-ceded, ancestral land that is not ours. To create a space that is grounded in dignity, belonging, and justice, we decided that it was more important to recognize and honour the history of the land than the names of corporations or wealthy donors.

Our relationship with Indigenous Peoples and our journey through and to reconciliation are more important than money. These are our values, and we’re choosing to live them, regardless of the expense. We believe it is possible to have your actions align with your values, especially when it comes to managing your pocketbook.

We invite the City to reflect on their values regarding the allocation of existing funds. We continue to see the Mayor’s office and Vancouver Police Department’s budgets climb without issue or much in the way of “creative” fundraising. It just happens. It’s dismaying that our public spaces—and opportunities for righting wrongs of colonialism—not given the same type of prioritization for a City of Reconciliation.

Be brave, City of Vancouver. Take a note out of our playbook. Live the values you say you have. And if nothing else, it might not be a great look for your sponsors as you evict houseless residents from these newly-renamed parks.