Katrine Conroy, the B.C. minister of forests, introduced a bill on Oct. 20, to reshape forest management in this province. She says the proposed changes align forestry legislation with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. I quickly took to my computer to read between the lines of Bill 23 – 2021 – The Forests Statutes Amendment Act, and I discovered some key things of concern regarding Indigenous rights.
Does the bill include the need for a chief forester to communicate with Indigenous governing body? Yes, it does.
Does the Indigenous governing body get to have their concerns heard? Yes, they do.
Is there a requirement for dispute resolution if necessary? Yes, there is.
So, what might be the problem? The problem is Part 1.1 / Division 1- Forest Landscape Plan / 2.26 Dispute Resolution Facilitation.
After an entire process is laid out for co-operation, consent, and concerns from the Indigenous authority and the public – which all sounds good up to and including the potential facilitation of a dispute resolution – the facilitator of said resolution would give a report; and then, in comes clause 7, which states, “A report of a facilitator does not limit the power of the chief forester in respect of the decision or matter that is the subject of the report.”
Wait, what?! Does this mean the Indigenous governing body goes through this entire process up to the point of mediation, and then the chief forester can go ahead and make their own decisions anyway?
Oh wait, perhaps the solution can be found in clause 9? – “this does not limit the right of the Indigenous governing body to take it to court.” Oh my, the good old If-you-don’t-like-it-take-it-to-Court card. Hmmm, that doesn’t sound too hopeful to me; it doesn’t sound respectful to me, and it surely doesn’t sound like equal “government to government” status.
Further along in the bill, in clause 2.38 we find that the chief forester can submit their plan to the minister for approval, as long as they can show they have made ‘reasonable efforts’ to engage with Indigenous nations, and that they have made the plan public. The results of those ‘reasonable efforts’ are apparently irrelevant, so long as they made the effort. If from there, the minister requests an amendment to the plan, it does not have to go back to the Indigenous nation or to the public, to be a done deal.
There is another question at the top of my mind – who are the Indigenous governing bodies that British Columbia will choose to do this forestry business with? And why? There is a lot of discrepancy regarding who really holds rights to speak for their Nation on unceded lands; and we see RCMP enforcing injunctions against hereditary chiefs, First Nations members, and a growing body of allies, all in the name of the rights of extraction industries with government permissions, regardless of anyone’s outcries about rights, love of nature, need for their land, and fears of climate change.
Having now seen the clauses, in this new bill, regarding the decision-making power of the chief forester and the minister, I believe that this Bbill does not fit the intentions of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, and therefore should not be approved as such.
Laura Appleton-Jones (Courtenay),
Eartha Muirhead (Denman Island)