This has been an incredibly difficult chapter for British Columbia – and for me personally as an Indigenous Member of the Legislative Assembly.
From the exhilaration of being the first jurisdiction in Canada to pass the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into legislation, to the escalating situation in Wet’suwet’en territory, our path to reconciliation has been – and will continue to be – fraught with challenges.
As I said when the Declaration received Royal Assent, none of this work is easy or simple. It will not be solved overnight. The tragic and dysfunctional relationship between Crown governments and Indigenous people in British Columbia is legally complex and has been evolving for more than 150 years.
It is the legacy of Canada’s historic and ongoing colonialism. It shapes where and how we live, how decisions are made, how lands are stewarded, where power lies, and the purposes for which it is used.
From the federal Indian Act to successive generations of policies designed to separate and marginalize Indigenous people, provincial and federal governments have consistently ignored Supreme Court rulings when they don’t fit with their agenda. But that does not change the fact that courts have been recognizing Indigenous law as legitimate for decades and have repeatedly implored governments to reconcile Indigenous rights and title with the assertion of Crown sovereignty through good-faith negotiation instead of further litigation.
Supreme Court of Canada’s 1997 Delgamuukw decision, specifically, addressed the issue of Aboriginal title in Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan territories.
The traditional leadership of the Wet’suwet’en have opposed the Coastal GasLink pipeline from the beginning, yet Crown governments continued to ignore the legitimate and existing Indigenous law in the region. Instead of making time to work through the longstanding jurisdictional uncertainty, Crown governments encouraged the project proponent to proceed and sign agreements with the Indian Act Chiefs and Councils along the route.
No aspect of this current breakdown in relations in British Columbia should be a surprise to the Crown governments. They have been well aware of the substantial confusion that has been created by government policy throughout the last century and a half.
The complexity and importance of this situation, and countless others across our great province, is what made the passage of UNDRIP into legislation a key condition of my support in this NDP minority government.
However, at the same time as work on the Declaration was progressing, the BC NDP decided to proceed with Bill 10, Income Tax Amendment Act (2019) which offered a massive taxpayer funded subsidy to LNG Canada, which is fed by the Coastal Gaslink pipeline. They did so knowing full well that the Wet’suwet’en traditional leadership were staunchly opposed to the project. For that, economic, environmental, and climate change reasons I voted against it.
As we saw around the British Columbia legislative precinct on opening day of the 2020 Spring session, and indeed across the country, it has continued to escalate since then.
In my response to the Speech from the Throne following the demonstrations, I addressed this situation in detail. I hope you will take time to watch my response speech to better understand my perspective on this complex and troubling situation.
Adam Olsen is the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands and Member of Tsartlip First Nation.