The səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview Lands should’t return to a sprawling institution to treat people with mental health challenges, says an expert about the Coquitlam grounds.
Rather, Dr. Julian Somers — the founding director of SFU’s Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction — believes the land stewards, BC Housing and the Kwikwetlem First Nation (KFN), should look at creating a Centre for Excellence where best practices about mental health can be followed by practitioners around the province.
Somers, who has advised agencies about how to shape policy to address severe mental health and homelessness, said that the redevelopment of the century-old acreage off Lougheed Highway has been “a stop-and-start story for decades…. It was very clear when I started my training as a psychologist in 1985 that it was planning to pack up.”
But now that the master planning process is underway, Somers said the concept about how to care for people with mental health challenges has changed: It’s better to have patients live in their own communities instead of “living out their days at Riverview.”
“There are options that help people immensely,” Somers told the Tri-City News last week. “Having stable housing, giving them autonomy. These are things some of them have never had…. The calls to reopen Riverview [as an institution] would not be taking advantage of a lot of what we’ve learned recently, and what makes them comfortable.”
Somers said that having the səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview Lands be a model of service to guide practitioners around B.C. — and providing them with additional community resources to replicate what’s happening on site — would be less expensive than having people with mental health challenges be in police custody or in the hospital with chronic ailments.
Indeed, the future of the səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview Lands has been top of mind with many professionals as BC Housing and KFN invite the public to be part of the master planning.
Last month, before they launched the process, BC Housing and KFN renamed the site to səmiq̓ʷəʔelə (pronounced suh-mEE-kwuh EL-uh) to reflect the Nation’s ancestral ties.
Still, BC Housing’s Carol De Paoli said the Crown corporation has received less than 100 responses since the survey came out; as a result, the deadline for the first survey is now extended by a week, to April 30.
The site renewal will address mental health treatment as well as affordable housing; protection of open spaces (including trees); building heritage; and the role of reconciliation with the KFN on property of which it has an active legal land title claim.
That claim was filed in 2016, and is separate from the provincial government’s 2019 Declaration of Indigenous Rights and Titles (DRIPA) law when B.C. was first provincial government in Canada to align with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). It is because of DRIPA that KFN will receive səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview Lands land transfers, with the remaining property staying in public hands.
“We do not know, at this time, what lands may be transferred and/or if our current land title claim may affect any of the transfer of lands,” wrote KFN project lead Jill Stauber, in an email to the Tri-City News. “The Kwikwetlem First Nation will continue to have open and meaningful dialogue with BC Housing and the province of B.C. in determining resolution over what accommodations may be negotiated for the loss of these unceded lands which are within our core territory. Accommodation could potentially take many forms, but cannot be determined at this time.”
“The Nation is also unable to comment on whether any lands that may be transferred will form reserve lands as the Kwikwetlem membership would need to be engaged and consulted,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, the film industry also has a keen eye on səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview Lands.
“B.C.’s motion picture industry values Riverview and the long history of it being an anchor location,” Creative BC wrote. “Over the years, industry has been involved in ongoing conversations with BC Housing around the future development of the səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview Lands on which the industry works. This conversation includes consultation and discussions to include filming as part of its redevelopment and infrastructure.”
As well, the federal government is eyeing the site for its National Housing Strategy.
“At the same time, protecting the arboretum and ensuring continued support for mental health and addictions is essential,” said Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam Liberal MP Ron McKinnon. “I look forward to working in partnership with the Kwikwetlem First Nation and our local community members to move forward with this important project."
Port Moody-Coquitlam Conservative MP Nelly Shin, whose constituency includes the səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview Lands, declined to comment to the Tri-City News.
De Paoli said BC Housing is aware of the impact the redevelopment will have on Tri-City residents. “We really want to hear from them about how this landscape will change. We understand there’s going to be a lot of different interests for this site, and we want to find the synergies. What I’m hearing is that people are seeing the signs for opportunity.”
• Fill out the BC Housing survey via letstalkhousingbc.ca/sumiqwuelu-riverview by April 30.