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

A 3.0-magnitude earthquake occurred off Ucluelet just after 12:30 a.m. on April 10 and was reportedly felt as far south as Oregon. (Map via United States Geological Survey)
Quake off Ucluelet reportedly felt as far south as Oregon

Magnitude 1.5 earthquake also reported off Vancouver Island’s west coast hours earlier

The CSRHD board has diverging views on its relationship with Island Health. File photo
Comox-Strathcona board ponders relationship with Island Health

“We have to stand together … to get our share of the health budget.”

The CVCDA Accessibility Project is creating safer ramps at the Courtenay facility. Photo supplied
Accessibility project underway at Comox Valley Child Development Association

Over the past month, you may have noticed some construction underway behind… Continue reading

19 Wing Comox’s Wing Auxiliary Security Force (WASF) will be conducting training at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Comox and the Department of National Defence Seal Bay training area from April 12-16. Black Press file photo
19 Wing training set for April at Seal Bay, CFB Comox

Members of the public may see an increase in activity at locations in the Valley

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

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

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

The 10-part Netflix series Maid, which is being exclusively shot in Greater Victoria, was filming near Prospect Lake in Saanich last month. (Photo courtesy Fred Haynes)
Province announces $150,000 towards South Island film studio, fulfilling B.C. NDP promise

Investment to fund movie studio feasibility study at Camosun College

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Most Read