British Columbia leads with five-year-plan to implement UNDRIP

Hill Times April 25, 2022

In 2019, British Columbia legislated to review provincial laws to ensure they are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), to develop an action plan, make annual reports on progress, and enable joint decision-making with Indigenous governing bodies. UNDRIP sets out the “minimum standard for the survival, dignity and well-being” of Indigenous peoples. It was a big deal.

British Columbia released its UNDRIP Action Plan on April 7. The four areas of action include self-determination and the inherent right of self-government; title and rights of Indigenous peoples; ending Indigenous-specific racism and discrimination; and social, cultural and economic well-being. This five-year Action Plan for British Columbia brings together 89 actions from every single ministry, thereby blowing apart the myth that Indigenous Affairs will do it all, as well as the myth that reconciliation is just that Indigenous icing on the cake. Not so, doing reconciliation changes the cake. It’s transformative.

If fully implemented, this will change the legal and governmental landscape in British Columbia by rolling back the colonial power dynamic of government to make space for joint decision-making with Indigenous communities. It will change education to ensure that no student graduates without knowing about residential schools and reconciliation; introduce anti-racism legislation that actually names Indigenous-specific racism; change the Police Act to ensure mandatory training to address racism in the ranks; deepen understanding of the interplay of mental health, addictions and homelessness; and create Indigenous education councils to take part in school district planning and decision-making.

Jessica Wood is Gitxsan and Tsimshian and the assistant deputy minister of British Columbia’s Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Secretariat. In a YouTube video, she referenced the importance of entering into reconciliation conversations with the “fulsomeness of our dreams,” the full strength of Indigenous peoples. It’s transformative.

Some of the 89 actions are pretty vague, such as the action to “identify and undertake concrete measures to increase the literacy and numeracy achievement levels of Indigenous students in K-12.” It leaves room for much interpretation. This also leaves room for much opportunity. Perhaps British Columbia got it right by creating opportunity for potential and perhaps it’s also relying on the partnerships between school districts and Indigenous leaders to define the next steps. The magic will occur (or not) at the local level, so resourcing of centralized supports and pressures to accomplish change will be essential.

The UNDRIP federal law was signed on June 21, 2021, and an associated action plan required within two years, following the British Columbia model. One can have hope, but an educated reader would be warranted to ask if these types of actions are best placed at the provincial and territorial level? Just like health has a national law, but implemented locally, perhaps reconciliation should also have a national law and implemented locally. It seems that British Columbia is moving faster without the drag of the federal government.

The truth here is that we don’t have time to drag this out. Every political term in which reconciliation and Indigenous rights are punted to the next cycle, is damning another few hundred Indigenous kids to jurisdictional nightmares trying to access basic health care. It is damning some tens of Indigenous communities to house fire crises without emergency response. It is damning thousands of Indigenous kids to child welfare instead of preventative family supports. Every planning cycle in which we punt Indigenous well-being to another day is damning Indigenous peoples.

Don’t put off reconciliation. One can only hope that every single provincial/territorial election puts the wellbeing of Indigenous peoples front and centre. Demand more from your political party, every political party. One can hope that Canadians will start voting for reconciliation.