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.

BC legislature

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dogs are matched with the person, not the person matched to the dog – Prince Rupert SPCA

Prince Rupert SPCA does their due diligence in adopting dogs to suitable human companions

Photo Gallery: Memorial totem pole raising in Prince Rupert

The memorial pole stands in memory of Prince Rupert carvers mother on Second Ave. West

Province, feds, Wet’suwet’en announce progress in MOU talks

External community engagement process launched to help implement Wet’suwet’en rights and title

Memorial totem pole raised in Prince Rupert

The memorial pole was a two year project led by local carver Lyle Campbell

Heart of our city – Fighting for the road to recovery

World champion kick-boxer wins at Trinity House recovery program

578 British Columbians currently infected with COVID-19

Seventy-eight new cases confirmed in past 24 hours

Conservation seizes fawn illegally kept captive in Vancouver Island home

A Comox Valley resident charged and fined under the Wildlife Act

Pandemic could be driving more parents to get on board with flu shot: study

University of B.C. study gauges willingness for parents to vaccinate children for influenza

Watchdog clears Okanagan RCMP in death of man after arrest over alleged stolen pizzas

The man died in hospital after having difficulty breathing and broken ribs

Have you seen Berleen? B.C. pig destined for sanctuary goes missing

Berleen was less than two weeks from travelling to Manitoba when she vanished

Health Canada says several kids hospitalized after eating edible pot products

People warned not to store cannabis products where children can find them

‘It’s not just about me’: McKenna cites need to protect politicians from threats

Police investigation was launched after someone yelled obscenities at a member of McKenna’s staff

Michigan plans dedicated road lanes for autonomous vehicles

First study of its kind in the U.S. to figure out whether existing lanes or shoulders could be used

Most Read