B.C. Premier John Horgan and Cheryl Casimer of the B.C. First Nations Summit executive take part in the sixth annual conference of B.C. cabinet ministers and Indigenous leaders, Vancouver, Nov. 5, 2019. (B.C. government)

B.C. debate becomes bitter over impact of UN Indigenous rights law

Premier John Horgan cites salmon farm closures as model, opposition points to LNG, contracts

Once the B.C. government’s meetings with Indigenous leaders are over, the details of North America’s first embrace of the United Nations Indigenous land rights law still have to be hammered out in the legislature by the end of November.

In his opening speech at the annual “all chiefs” meeting with Indigenous leaders Nov. 5, Premier John Horgan pointed the province’s agreement to shut down salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago as a model for implementing the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) in B.C.

“Five farms closed already, five more farms closing in the future, and the last seven farms to be there subject to relationships between Indigenous peoples and industry,” Horgan told hundreds of Indigenous leaders gathered in Vancouver. “That is what reconciliation is about. That is what free, prior and informed consent is about. If you want to do business in British Columbia, come and talk to the owners of the land, come and talk to those who have inherent rights, and we will find a way forward.”

RELATED: Trudeau vows to end B.C. open-pen salmon farming

RELATED: New power line needed for LNG Canada megaproject

B.C.’s legislation is the first attempt in North America to formally impose UNDRIP on an existing jurisdiction. In opening debate on Bill 41 in the B.C. legislature, Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser said adoption of the framework bill is only the beginning.

“This legislation is enabling, so we won’t see the world change overnight once it is passed,” Fraser said, adding that “the business community is ahead of government on this.” Addressing the most contentious part of the legislation, he said there are “countless experts” who have concluded that the UN declaration of “free, prior and informed consent” is is not a veto over land use and resource projects.

“For example, James Anaya, the former special rapporteur for the rights of Indigenous peoples, has explained that free, prior and informed consent — that standard — is meant to ensure that all parties work together in good faith, that they make every effort to achieve mutually acceptable arrangements and that a focus should be on building consensus,” Fraser said. “This is quite different than veto.”

Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad recalled his time as Indigenous relations minister, starting in 2013. The B.C. Liberal government had 18 non-treaty agreements, later called reconciliation agreements, sharing forest and other land resources, and then-premier Christy Clark gave him a mandate to sign 10 more.

“Well, I’m pretty proud of the fact that by the time 2017 came around and I was in there for just over four years, we had signed 435 of those agreements, over and above what was done before,” Rustad told the legislature.

On the contested issue of what defines “consent,” Rustad described the issue of overlapping territories in his own northwest B.C. constituency, involving the Yekooche First Nation.

“Yekooche came out of one of the other nations and has kind of been settled in the middle of a number of nations,” Rustad said. “Well, they have overlaps in every direction. As a matter of fact, the Nadleh Whut’en want to be able to sign the pipeline benefits agreement and be able to advance their work with the Coastal Gaslink. They’re waiting for government to help resolve an overlap issue they have with Yekooche.”

Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen, a member of the Tsartlip First Nation and one of three B.C. Green Party MLAs, recounted colonial injustices he wants ended, and was combative about critics of UNDRIP.

“Some voices in this House would have us believe the UNDRIP is imposed on us by the United Nations,” Olsen said. “They undermine it. They’re ignorant of it. I believe it’s intentional.”

Olsen was also defiant about energy projects, including the Trans Mountain oil expansion project and the Coastal Gaslink pipeline for LNG exports that is supported by the NDP and B.C. Liberals, and opposed by the Greens.

“It is clearly time for us to move beyond the resource colony mentality, the desperate attempt to liquidate the resources from these lands and waters that were enabled by the convenient doctrine of discovery and terra nullis for the benefit of multinational corporations, starting with the Hudson’s Bay Company,” Olsen told the legislature.

Skeena B.C. Liberal MLA Ellis Ross, a former elected councillor and chief of the Haisla Nation at Kitimat, is hopeful but skeptical about UNDRIP. Ross described his 15 years on Haisla council, dealing with the B.C. treaty process and other government commitments, with no change in poverty conditions on his reserve.

“I went to Ottawa. I came to Victoria, to lobby the government for programs and money,” Ross told the legislature. “When I realized that all I’m doing is asking for more dependency, I refused to go on any more lobbying trips for more money.”

Ross said his years of work towards the Kitimat liquefied natural gas export facility have produced jobs and tangible economic benefits.

Ross said the “free, prior and informed consent” in UNDRIP already exists in case law.

“It has already been in practice for many, many years,” Ross told the legislature. “That’s why we have LNG. That’s why we have peace in the woods.”


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Missing Abbotsford man may be in in the region: RCMP

Cranbrook RCMP is asking the public to keep an eye out for… Continue reading

Cranbrook snowfall shouldn’t accumulate for long

A brief weather system has brought some snow with it into Cranbrook… Continue reading

White Tiger Taekwondo students earn accolades at Kalispell event

White Tiger Taekwondo recently returned with a third place team finish at… Continue reading

Driver promoted to Cranbrook fire chief

Longtime deputy director of operations steps up to lead Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services

Health Foundation’s Starlite campaign underway

EKFH raising $1.2 million to bring a SPECT CT to the East Kootenay Region.

‘We love you, Alex!’: Trebek gets choked up by ‘Jeopardy!’ contestant’s answer

The emotional moment came in Monday’s episode when Trebek read Dhruv Gaur’s final answer

Petition for free hospital parking presented to MP Jody Wilson-Raybould

What started as a B.C. campaign became a national issue, organizer said

Petition to ‘bring back Don Cherry’ goes viral after immigrant poppy rant

Cherry was fired from his co-hosting role for the Coach’s Corner segment on Nov. 11.

B.C.’s high gasoline prices still a mystery, Premier John Horgan says

NDP plans legislation this month, seeks action from Justin Trudeau

Group walking on thin ice at B.C. lake sparks warning from RCMP

At least seven people were spotted on Joffre Lakes, although the ice is not thick enough to be walked on

VIDEO: Don Cherry says he was fired, not sorry for ‘Coach’s Corner’ poppy rant

Cherry denies he was singling out visible minorities with his comments

B.C. teacher suspended for incessantly messaging student, writing friendship letter

Female teacher pursued Grade 12 student for friendship even after being rebuked

Disney Plus streaming service hits Canada with tech hurdles

Service costs $8.99 per month, or $89.99 per year, in Canada

Trudeau’s opponents: One gives him an earful, another seeks common ground

PM meets with Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe

Most Read