Cheryl Casimer delivers a speech to the B.C. Legislature on Oct. 24. Don Craig/B.C. government photo.

Former ʔaq̓am chief helps mark new provincial bill upholding Indigenous rights

New legislation to align provincial law with United Nations declaration affirming Indigenous rights

The B.C. government recently introduced legislation designed to align provincial law with a United Nations declaration affirming and recognizing the rights of Indigenous Peoples across the world.

The provincial legislation was brought forward in Victoria on Oct. 24th, in a ceremony that included former ʔaq̓am chief Cheryl Casimer, along with other provincial Indigenous leaders.

“The provincial government has a long history of denying the very existence and rights of Indigenous peoples,” said Casimer, the political executive for First Nations Summit. “We are pleased that this changes today, and the Province of British Columbia is working with us in turning the page in our collective history and embarking on a new era and path for building a respectful and modern government-to-government relationship – a relationship built on recognition, respect, co-operation and partnership with a goal to improve the lives of our citizens and bring reconciliation to the forefront of society.”

The provincial legislation — Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act — was developed in collaboration with First Nations in order to bring in a standard of rights identified in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

“Today’s legislation is a crucial step towards true and lasting reconciliation,” said Premier John Horgan. “With this new law, Indigenous peoples will be part of the decisions that affect them, their families and their territories. Together with Indigenous peoples, we’re going to build a better future with good jobs and opportunities for people, strong environmental protections and healthy communities that include everyone.”

In a Facebook post, Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka expressed pride and congratulations to Casimer, noting the two were former college schoolmates in Cranbrook nearly 40 years ago.

“Today was undoubtedly one the proudest moments that I have had in the Legislature for myself personally,” wrote Shypitka. “Today an old schoolmate of mine made a speech in the house in regards to First Nation truth and reconciliation and the introduction of Bill 41.

“36 years ago Cheryl Casimer and I hung out at what was once East Kootenay Community College. Those were fun times and we did a lot of stuff that college kids would do albeit life and the future seemed unknown and uncertain.

“Today seemed to be like I was in some kind of a time warp. Who would have ever thought that two college kids from Cranbrook would ever end up in the BC Legislature in the same chambers at the same time and directly participating in BC and Canadian history? It blew my mind and I came close to tears with pride for Cheryl.”

As provincial laws are created or modified, they will be aligned with UNDRIP, according to a provincial government news release. Additional elements of the bill include developing an action plan to meet the objectives of UNDRIP and annual public reporting. Further elements include developing new decision-making agreements between the province and Nations, and recognition for additional forms of Indigenous governments in agreement-making, such as multiple First Nations working together as a collective.

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