Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act introduced in BC

Legislation introduced by British Columbia’s government in collaboration with the First Nations leaders would bring into provincial law recognized standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“With this new law, Indigenous peoples will be part of the decisions that affect them, their families and their territories,” said British Columbia Premier John Horgan, in a statement issued by his office as the legislation was introduced on Oct 24. “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.”

The legislation, developed in collaboration with the First Nations Leadership Council, would make British Columbia the first province to put into provincial law the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Horgan said.

“The legislation will create a path forward that upholds the human rights of Indigenous peoples, while creating more transparency and predictability in the work we do together,” said Scott Fraser, minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “This is about ending discrimination and conflict in our province, and instead ensuring more economic justice and fairness.”

The legislation drew strong support from Regional Chief Terry Teegee, of the BC Assembly of First Nations, and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, who called it a beacon of hope that would pave the way for a better future for their children.

The move to enshrine the UN declaration into provincial law was hailed in Alaska by the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC) in Wrangell for setting a new path forward for states like Alaska to revisit opportunities for substantive partnerships between government, Indigenous peoples, communities and industry.

The UN Declaration “clearly asserts the right of indigenous peoples to determine what happens on the lands and waters they have relied on and called home throughout our history, and we hope that we will see similar leadership from states like Alaska in the months and years to come, as a result of this action,” said Tis Peterman, executive director of SEITC. “Southeast Alaska’s tribal governments likewise want a say with regards to the development of mining projects that have the potential to impact our waterways.”

Meredith Trainor, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) in Juneau, cited Horgan’s actions as a way to “establish a new model for shared decision-making around major mining developments, one that will set an international bar for how meaningful consultation around major mining developments should be done.”

SEACC opposes efforts by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Alaska’s congressional delegation for a federal exemption for the Alaska Roadless Rule for Tongass National Forest, which would allow for a major increase in timber harvests, a move SEACC and others contend would result in adverse impacts to miles of salmon habitat in rivers and streams within the vast forest.

SEACC has also been active in discussions involving planned and existing British Columbia mines bordering on salmon-rich transboundary waterways.

“Of late, the state of Alaska has seemed to be waging war on our clean water,” Trainor said. “We hope our state officials are watching and taking notes today as the Canadians chart their own path towards a deeper partnership with indigenous peoples that uses requirements around free, prior and informed consent as a guide for the permitting of new mining projects.”

“It is my hope that this newly introduced legislation from our neighbors to the east signals a new approach to and more meaningful engagement for those indigenous communities that stand to lose the most should mine projects fail, or experience contamination events,” said Heather Evoy, Indigenous Engagement Lead for SEACC. Evoy, who grew up in Ketchikan and Metlakatla, said her greatest fear is that her children would not be able to eat fish and gather wild foods from the same lands that have fed and sheltered her ancestors for millennia.