DERRICK PENNER, Vancouver Sun
Updated: October 24, 2019
"Most simply put, it’s about coming together as governments, as people seeking to find common ground,” said Terry Teegee, Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations in B.C.
B.C. made history Thursday as the first province in Canada to introduce legislation aimed at adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which left local First Nations and industry hopeful for an improvement to the status quo.
The legislation, introduced by Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser, mandates that government bring its laws and policies into harmony with the aims of the declaration, often referred to by its acronym, UNDRIP.
On the order paper as Bill 41, the legislation doesn’t set out a timeline for completion, but Fraser said it “is about ending discrimination and conflict in our province, and instead ensuring more economic justice and fairness.”
“Let’s make history,” he told the legislature Thursday, in front of an audience that included leaders from the First Nations Leadership Council.
There will be those who find any change difficult “because they’ve grown accustomed to the status quo,” said Indigenous leader Bob Chamberlin, but they shouldn’t fear UNDRIP’s principle of Aboriginal consent and shared decision-making for resource development.
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“Right now, we essentially have one-size-fits-all consultation, which doesn’t work,” said Chamberlin, a former first vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and recent unsuccessful NDP candidate on Vancouver Island in the federal election. “If it worked, we wouldn’t be in the courts (with) everything being dragged out.”
UNDRIP requires governments to obtain “free and informed consent” from Indigenous groups before approving any project affecting their lands or resources, but Fraser said that doesn’t equate to a veto over development.
B.C. Premier John Horgan echoed Fraser, stating that neither the legislation nor the UN declaration itself includes language that would grant a veto over resource projects. For industry, the proof of success on that point will have to come from implementation, said Greg D’Avignon, CEO of the Business Council of B.C.
“Whenever you bring something new in, there is always a difference in perception and interpretation of what it is and what it isn’t, D’Avignon said. “Government has been clear today that this is not a veto and that they retain their right for decision-making and we will hold them to that obligation.”
Indigenous leaders addressed the concern in speeches to the legislature.
“Some people will oppose this law because of their fears about what an era of mutual consent means,” said Terry Teegee, regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations in B.C., adding that making history “is not for the faint of heart.”
“I want to say strongly and clearly here: This declaration law is not about providing any government with veto rights,” Teegee said.
Consent is about a process to achieve agreement, he said, which “is the future.”
“Most simply put, it’s about coming together as governments, as people seeking to find common ground,” Teegee said.
And if that is implemented well, B.C.’s mining industry is cautiously hopeful that such decision-making will “enable greater certainty and predictability on the land base,” according to Michael Goehring, CEO of the Mining Association of B.C.
Goehring said his association’s members have long been “advancing economic reconciliation” through agreements and partnerships with First Nations that reflect UNDRIP’s principles. So the industry welcomes a chance to provide input to government and Indigenous leaders on the plan and implementation of the legislation.
“The truth is, the status quo has not engendered confidence in British Columbia’s economic future, nor has it served British Columbians or B.C.’s Indigenous communities,” Goehring said. “So we approach this bill with cautious optimism.”
Fraser said the legislation was drafted after consultation with a wide range of groups and organizations, including Indigenous, business and government leaders. The declaration contains 46 articles, including that Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination, which means they can determine their political status and pursue economic, social and cultural development.
Another article calls for an independent process to be established to recognize and adjudicate Indigenous Peoples’ rights pertaining to their lands and resources granting them the right to redress or compensation for traditional lands that have been taken, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent. It’s unclear what this will practically look like in B.C., which has almost no treaty settlements with its over 200 First Nations. Horgan said the past is littered with broken promises to Indigenous Peoples, but the law can bring a new future.
“This bill is important because Indigenous rights are human rights,” he said. “We all want to live in a province where the standard of living for Indigenous Peoples is the same as every other community in the province.”
Chamberlin said the province, First Nations and B.C.’s salmon-farming industry used a shared-decision-making process for a deal over salmon farming in the Broughton Archipelago that could be a model for Bill 41’s implementation.
“People are going to say this is time-consuming and expensive,” Chamberlin said. “Well, I think going to court is time-consuming and expensive, and leads to no certainty whatsoever. It doesn’t advance reconciliation, it just hardens the lines, and I think after 150-odd years in Canada we’ve had enough hard lines.”
-With files from The Canadian Press
SALMON BEYOND BORDERS is a campaign driven by sport and commercial fishermen, community leaders, tourism and recreation business owners and concerned citizens, in collaboration with Tribes and First Nations, united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend and sustain our transboundary rivers, jobs and way of life.
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