It’s a new day for Indigenous Rights in Canada

Credit Province of BC.

The Hill Times, November 4, 2019

On Oct. 24, 2019, British Columbia tabled legislation to align provincial law with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). In full partnership with the B.C. First Nations Summit, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, and the B.C. Region of the Assembly of First Nations, the provincial government co-developed law to start a new process of ensuring Indigenous involvement in decision-making in the province, and to protect the human rights of Indigenous peoples.

The purpose of the act, quoting directly from the bill, is to “affirm the application of the Declaration to the laws of B.C.; to contribute to the implementation of the Declaration; and to support the affirmation of, and develop relationships with, Indigenous governing bodies.” This historic bill has the potential to transform the playing field and involve Indigenous peoples as partners, and to reduce the millions of taxpayer dollars spent fighting in court battles. While much remains to be seen in how the draft legislation is implemented, there is a strong sense of hope and trust in this partnership in British Columbia.

What an amazing day! Indigenous leaders and dancers were on the floor of the British Columbia Legislature, similar to that day in 2007 when Canada apologized to Indian residential school survivors in the nation’s Parliament. These days are so rare.

Did you know that B.C. has brought this historic bill to fruition in less than three years? One may wonder how they pulled off such a huge work in a short time. It’s about the relationship and transparency between the province and Indigenous partners, said Jessica Wood, assistant deputy minister at the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. At the ministry’s all-staff meeting in June, Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Scott Fraser shared his sense of the moral and urgent need to act on both the Truth and Reconciliation’s Calls to Action (TRC) and UNDRIP. It’s about relationship, acting on reconciliation, and legislating the rights of Indigenous peoples.

Cue the outrage.

There is always some outrage in response to protecting the inherent (meaning, it’s already there even if you don’t want to admit it) rights of Indigenous peoples. Think about that one. Is it too much ask that we protect the human rights of Indigenous peoples? How about when we disagree?

The implementation of UNDRIP and consistent approaches of respect and the relationship with Canada and the provinces/territories would have likely prevented a number of crises in Canada. These crises all involved tactical police and/or military, and in some of these crises, Canadians died in the conflict. And the whole point of UNDRIP is to prevent these conflicts: Oka in Quebec, Gustafson Lake in B.C., Caledonia and Ipperwash in Ontario. Is it too much to ask to resolve the disagreements now, so we don’t all pay for future conflicts? Canada, it’s time to implement the TRC and UNDRIP, in intent and in policy, action and law. Drop all the resistance to building relationships with Indigenous peoples. Talk to Indigenous communities like partners, not like fiduciary pawns in some colonial game.

It’s time to drop the fiduciary veil, the perceived power that Canada sometimes wields to control the conversation. Indigenous peoples are partners with enshrined rights, and the original treaties are about reciprocity, not fiduciary oversight.

It’s time to drop the resistance. British Columbia has shown a way forward, and now the pressure is on Canada and each province/territory to walk the talk.