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. 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

Read the full 2019-2020 annual report report online at www.seabirdisland.ca.
Seabird Island looks back in 2019-20 report

Highlights include COVID response, new development, upgrades

File photo
Outdoor recreation generates close to $1 billion annually in Fraser Valley: report

Camping, hiking and sportfishing generate the most spending, report finds

A new Sardis secondary school logo designed by a former student, Jason Roberts. (Facebook photo)
Chilliwack’s Sardis secondary unveils new logo done in Coast Salish style

The new-look Falcon is meant strengthen connections between Indigenous students and their school

Signs up at Hope Secondary School inform visitors that the school is a closed campus during the coronavirus pandemic. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)
Fourth COVID-19 exposure reported at Hope Secondary School

Nov. 27 exposure two days after another exposure at the school, with five exposures total across SD78

Chief Robert Gladstone of Shxwha:y Village at a federal flood funding announcement April 24, 2019. (Jenna Hauck/Chilliwack Progress file)
Consortium of Indigenous chiefs seeking a way to participate in cannabis economy

All Nations Chiefs from the Shxwha:y, Cheam, Soowahlie and Sq’ewlets holding online forum Dec. 2

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

Despite rumours, Surrey RCMP say they are not issuing tickets to people if they are driving in a vehicle with others from a different household. (File photo)
COVID-19 tickets: No, RCMP aren’t checking vehicle occupancies, restaurant tables

Enforcement about education, not punishment says Surrey RCMP Cpl. Joanie Sidhu

Most Read