With one hour and twenty minutes available to the BC Green Caucus for Budget Estimates in Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation it provided an excellent opportunity to have a detailed exchange on a variety of important topics.
In this session I asked Minister Murray Rankin about the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act action plan, consultation and engagement with rights and title holders, navigating hereditary and elected leaders, aligning current and new statutes, a litigation directive from the B.C. Attorney General, ministerial secretariat, the minister’s role within the Cabinet, stable revenue for Indigenous governments, Metis language revitalization, repatriation of ancestral remains and items of cultural significance, and a few other issues.
A. Olsen: Thank you, Mr. Chair, for this opportunity, and thank you to the minister for taking the time and to my friends and colleagues in the B.C. Liberals for providing this time for us to ask some questions.
First of all, I’d like to congratulate the minister on his appointment to this really important role. As I’m asking questions today, they’re largely going to be in the context of that role and over this term of this mandate that his government has — just wanting to have discussion, I think, in broad terms, about what the minister’s approach and philosophy are in this role.
I know that my colleague from Kamloops–North Thompson has asked some questions with respect to the action plan. I know that this was one key part of this. I’ve heard the minister respond, I think, to the impacts that COVID-19 has had on the development of the action plan. Maybe, perhaps, the minister can provide a little bit more detail as to exactly how that has delayed or impacted the development of the action plan.
Hon. M. Rankin: Welcome to my colleague from Saanich and the Islands. It’s wonderful to be able to discuss these important issues with him.
You know, we had hoped to get the action plan out last year, no question about it. But COVID made it impossible, not only because government was disabled from doing its regular work — at least initially; we’ve come around since then — but of course, Indigenous communities were properly focused on keeping their members safe. You’ll recall the early days of the pandemic and how stressful it was for so many. I think we’re back on track. I would remind the member, Chair, that there is a need to consult and cooperate — those magic words in the declaration act — which we take very seriously.
We’ve had an enormous amount of engagement with all the Indigenous groups, and many individual nations as well. We’re going to get this document out, and the consultation draft, in the next few weeks. We hope to have it underway and done by the end of this year. It’ll be a five-year commitment. It’ll engage many ministries and agencies with things that are achievable in the real world. It’s not an aspirational document. It’s a document that we think, working in partnership with Indigenous Peoples, are things we can achieve together.
A. Olsen: Thank you, Minister, for that response. With respect to the consultation on the action plan that the minister refers to, I think that there are two groups there. There’s the rights and title holders, which are in the individual Indigenous Nations across the province, as well as Indigenous leadership groups. Memberships reflect various aspects of those Indigenous Nations working together.
I’m just wondering if the minister can provide a little context around what kinds of consultation and engagement has been done with the representative groups — the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, as an example, and the Assembly of First Nations. Then what level of consultation is being done with the specific rights and title holders, the individual Indigenous Nations and their leaderships?
Hon. M. Rankin: Thanks again to the member for the question. You know, we’ve had the opportunity to work closely with the First Nations Leadership Council — the treaty summit group; of course, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs; the AFN, which the member referred to — but we’ve also dealt with numerous specific rights and title holders, the individual nations.
I mentioned, of course, the Alliance of Modern Treaty Nations, and I mentioned, earlier today, the role of the Métis Nation B.C., who also are Indigenous Peoples for purposes of the declaration act. I think it’s important to also point out that the UBCIC…. They have, of course, undertaken their responsibilities to work with the proper rights and title holders, whom they represent. I think, all in all, we have had the benefit of input from a wide array of the Indigenous Peoples and their associations in this province.
A. Olsen: We often hear — or see, in letters and advocacy letters coming back from the Indigenous leadership groups that the minister was referring to and that I was referring to — that the engagement that the government undertakes with them should not be misconstrued as engagement or consultation that’s done with the rights and title holders.
I’m just wondering if maybe the minister could provide his perspective on how he’s navigating that really tricky area — where, certainly, it is a benefit to get the opinion of the leadership groups. I certainly have a deep respect for the work that they do on behalf of Indigenous People across the province. However, there seems to always be the caveat there, so I’m just wondering how the minister navigates that tricky space.
Hon. M. Rankin: That’s an excellent question, and a really insightful one. The member is absolutely right. The engagement, in the context of coming together with an action plan, is very different in kind than the kind of consultation that is required with the proper rights and title holders, the individual nations.
I completely accept that that is a challenge, especially in the time of COVID, where many of the proper rights and title holders…. If they had access to broadband or Internet, that’s one thing. Some of the remoter communities do not and have not. Of course, COVID has taken their attention elsewhere. So it’s been a challenge.
But there is a difference between engagement, as he puts it, and consultation. Again, we rely on the leadership groups to ensure that that takes place, that they are in touch with their individual nations. I believe that they have done so very, very well. But the point of the consultation draft, among others, is to give those individual nations the opportunity for themselves to see what is contained in this consultative draft, to allow them to see firsthand, on a website and through whatever processes we can generate to reach them, that they feel engaged and involved in this creation of our first action plan.
It’s so important that we get it right, and that’s why one would like to simply say, after all of this time and all of these meetings: “Let’s just get it out the door.” But no. I think the member puts his finger on one of the key reasons why we must have a further round, hopefully over the summer, so we can get it done by fall, in which the proper rights and title holders are fully engaged.
A. Olsen: Thank you, Minister. Perhaps the minister actually started to answer what my next question in this line of series is, and that is: what is the process? So often, I hear from the Indigenous Nations that I represent, that reach out to me, that they often get notified about something that government is doing, whether it be the provincial, federal or local governments, regional governments. They get notified. Then, oftentimes, there are challenges in responding in the time frame.
What is the time frame that the provincial government is going to set for those Indigenous Nations to provide their feedback on the action plan?
Hon. M. Rankin: The process has been a rather cumbersome one to date, and I’ll answer the member’s question a little bit later.
I should start by saying that Chief Tom, well known to the member in his W̱SÁNEĆ community, is the vice-president of the UBCIC and has been very much involved in this process as one of many. But the engagement on the action plan actually started in February of 2020. It has included general assemblies of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, First Nations Summit, the B.C. Assembly of First Nations as well as First Nations directly, the Alliance of B.C. Modern Treaty Nations, Tŝilhqot’in National Government, Métis Nation B.C., the Minister’s Advisory Council on Indigenous Women, urban Indigenous coalitions and other Indigenous organizations.
As I say, during the pandemic, we continued to soldier on. Between March and July of 2020, we undertook an early analysis of known Indigenous-identified priorities across government, and with Indigenous partners, continued that work. Then in July….
Between July of 2020 and January of this year, the province engaged Indigenous partners on what their priorities are for the action plan. We held 80 separate meetings with 75 Indigenous partners, with hundreds of Indigenous Peoples in attendance. There were 29 written submissions, as well, received from Indigenous partners. The First Nations Leadership Council, as I said earlier, carried out a complementary engagement approach. They engaged with 11 First Nation organizations and received eight written submissions.
Since then, we have committed to getting out, within the next few weeks, the consultative draft on the action plan, a wrap-up of all of that work of things which the ministries — and I hope First Nation leadership and Indigenous leadership — will confirm is a very viable, attainable, practical, doable plan for five years of what we hope to be able to achieve together. That consultative draft will come out in a matter of weeks.
Then, of course, summer gets in the way. I hope, despite the website and all of the other ways we’re going to try to reach Indigenous Nations, that by the fall, we’ll be able to get a finalized action plan completed.
The Chair: Thank you, Minister and Members. We will now take a brief recess while we undertake cleaning and safety protocols in preparation for the next committee Chair.
The committee recessed from 4 p.m. to 4:03 p.m.
[M. Dykeman in the chair.]
A. Olsen: Thank you to the minister for the outline of the process to date and as well, I think, the minister’s hope for getting the information back by this fall.
I’m just wondering if there’s any specific direction that’s going to be given with respect…. Well, let me put it this way. Is it clear how the feedback that you’re going to receive from Indigenous leaderships across the province is going to be informing…? If this is a draft, how is the information that comes back from Indigenous leaderships going to shape and mould, further to what the consultation and engagement process has already been involved in, in terms of developing the document that you’re going to be sending out?
Hon. M. Rankin: Thanks to the member for Saanich North and the Islands for that question. I would start by reminding him that we have had enormous involvement from Indigenous Peoples to this point in time so that when the consultation draft hits the street and when it goes live on a website, we hope that it will be well-received, because it will be the product of enormous input from Indigenous Peoples.
Exactly how it then proceeds is a function of the information we receive. Obviously, if there are serious deficiencies or difficulties that are identified, we will act accordingly. I’m hard-pressed to predict just how that will occur, not knowing the nature of the input that will be received.
A. Olsen: Thank you. Totally fair. I think what I’m trying to get at here with this question is simply….
As the member noted, my Chief, Chief Thom, is a member of the executive of one of the Indigenous leadership groups in our province. As someone who grew up on a reserve and in an Indigenous community, I’m very well aware of much of the sentiment around consultation and then how that consultation informs the end product.
So I’m very wary, when you send out a draft seeking more consultation, that actually, even though the original document was informed, you’re going to be sending out to a very large list of people and seeking their feedback. So there’s going to be some expectation — and rightly so, I think — that there’s receptivity to actually changing the document, depending on what it is.
I guess I’m just trying to highlight and to get from the minister the sense of receptivity to making the amendments. I recognize that there’s no way for the minister to presume what’s going to be in that feedback — just, rather, the approach, more than anything.
Hon. M. Rankin: I understand, having listened and engaged with many First Nations over my career, the wariness that the member refers to about consultation. I totally understand that and the frustration often that that…. People roll their eyes when they hear that word. The member is right in flagging that.
There’s something quite different about the declaration act. Section 4 refers to not just consultation but magic words. It says this: “The action plan must be prepared and implemented in consultation and cooperation with the Indigenous Peoples in British Columbia.”
Now, I stress that, because we’ve tried mightily to put meaning to the word “cooperation.” We have not rested on simply “consultation.” The member has talked about being wary about that word, and I get that. We have tried, really, to make this a cooperative effort. This is the first action plan that will ever have been created under a declaration act anywhere. It’s certainly the first in Canada, because we have the first and only act in Canada.
What’s important is…. We are not going to please everyone. I can’t imagine a political enterprise that ever does. But in that cooperation and in that consultation role, I think we’ve really managed to find practical, viable, doable things that will make a difference to the lives of Indigenous Peoples here.
That, after all, is what is motivating us — to make real change, to make positive change in real people’s lives. That is why we are doing this. That is why we have been able to engage that wide array of Indigenous leaders and rights and title–holding nations. We all want to get this right. It’s too important not to.
A. Olsen: I really appreciate that response. I thank the minister for it and for the openness that he’s demonstrating with this.
Of course, as he points out, this is the first declaration act of its kind in Canada. That also sets the expectations very high. In the tone and the response of the minister, I certainly sense that he understands the gravity of that. The expectations were set so high with the passing of the declaration. We really celebrated the passing of Bill 41 into legislation. From that perspective, there are a lot of people that are looking at this and looking at this process. Therefore, it’s precisely the reason why I’m asking this line of questioning. Without having seen the draft action plan, of course, it’s very difficult to speak to the specific aspects of it.
Further to the consultation and engagement, the member for Peace River North asked some questions — it wasn’t in the context that I’m going to ask them — around elected and hereditary leadership. We’re talking about the leadership of nations as well as the representative membership groups that form the leadership council.
I’m wondering — again, it’s another tricky area, created by the Indian Act, which we all either live under or have to work under — about the minister’s perspective navigating the areas around hereditary and elected leadership in Indigenous Nations. What kind of infrastructure, potentially, is he going to put in place in order to be able to engage that in a healthy and productive way, considering that for so long, it has not been healthy and it has not been productive — the engagement between Crown governments and Indigenous governments in this area?
Hon. M. Rankin: I thank the member for a very thoughtful question. I would be remiss if I didn’t say…. Because he referenced the historic achievement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act in 2019, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge his leadership and his very important role in creating that historic legislation and making it a reality. So I salute that.
I want to say that, really, in the issue of the relationship between hereditary and elected leadership in British Columbia, I start with the declaration act. There, “Indigenous governing bodies” is a term to be defined by Indigenous Peoples. It is not for public governments, in a paternalistic way, to define how they wish to present themselves to public governments, to the federal or provincial governments. That, I say, is at the heart of self-determination. That is at the heart of the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
That is why we have worked so hard to consult and cooperate with Indigenous leadership in order to get it right. The days of the old Indian Act, as the member rightly points out, where dictation was made and rights were trampled on — that is not what reconciliation can be about and is about. I think it’s in the spirit of reconciliation, in the best sense of that word, that we are pouring meaning into the declaration act.
On the specifics of whether it’s hereditary leadership or elected leadership, that depends on what the nation wishes. I can advise, and I’m sure the member is well aware, that in some circumstances, we work closely with an elected band and council. In other circumstances, we work with a hereditary leadership. And in many other circumstances, we work with a combination, a hybrid, of those two that works very well for particular nations.
That is for the nations to decide for themselves. What the Indigenous governing body is to be is entirely in their hands, and I say, with respect: that is entirely how it should be.
A. Olsen: I couldn’t agree more. It’s a beautiful answer, and I really appreciate it. I think there are two aspects of this. I’m going to venture down one, and then I’m going to venture down the other. The first is around the fact that the colonial governments, the Crown governments, established the elected leadership through the Indian Act. That largely disrupted the Indigenous laws and Indigenous governance that had thrived in the territories that we acknowledge every day in this Legislature. What that’s done is that it has created confusion on the ground in First Nations and Indigenous communities, but it has created confusion in the broader public as well.
In terms of the budget estimates discussion, in the first of two questions that I have, has the minister considered putting in place a funding mechanism that can invest, that can be available to Indigenous Nations to be able to financially support that really important governance work within the nations? What mechanisms are in place now for self-determination?
This requires work. It requires people to be dedicated and focused on this work. I see this happening in W̱SÁNEĆ right now, and it’s beautiful what’s happening. However, it’s expensive. I think that part of this discussion needs to be around: from a Crown government, how do we financially support that work that, frankly, Crown governments disrupted, historically?
Hon. M. Rankin: Again, I appreciate the question very much. The member asks about funding mechanisms in respect of these important governance relationships. In 2018, a document which is called Concrete Actions: Transforming Laws, Policies, Processes and Structures was the product of work with the province, the Assembly of First Nations, the First Nations Summit and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. Several actions are listed, and the outcomes expected from that.
Action No. 2 — the first was to implement UNDRIP; we can put a check mark beside that, although the implementation part continues — is to the member’s question. It talks of Indigenous Nations and governance-building.
The first goal is: “Establish an Indigenous commission designed, established and driven by First Nations, to provide certain supports to First Nations,” consistent with “rights of self-government and self-determination.” It goes on to suggest that the commission would support First Nations, upon request, with respect to boundary resolution, nation- and governance-building, constitution development, policy development and the like. So there was a recognition back then, not that long ago, of that important work that the member refers to in the so-called Concrete Actions document. We’re committed to that.
Now, on the funding front, we are doing that on a one-by-one basis, you could argue, Madam Chair. For example, in the Wet’suwet’en, $7.22 million were expended just before the last fiscal year-end in March, to fund the Wet’suwet’en, in this example, to do that kind of governance work, that kind of capacity-building, constitution-building work, that will be essential as we basically try to put colonialism in our past.
There’s an acknowledgment that that work needs to be done. We accept that that work needs to be done, and we’re doing it in that one example by funding the work so that the nations themselves can determine what their best path forward is. Other nations will, of course, choose a different path.
A. Olsen: Thank you for that. I think the minister’s response provides the gravity of the situation that we face and, as well, the scope and the scale of the work that’s yet to be done. I know that in Indigenous Nations across the province there are a lot of eager people that are ready and willing to do that.
Again, I think it’s important to acknowledge that none of this work is going to be done, necessarily, or should be done through volunteerism, although a lot of it has been done through volunteerism. I think it’s important that we have people that are dedicated to that. So I would just encourage the government to look at ways that they can expand the scope of the one example that the minister provided. I’m only saying “one example” because he only provided one example. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t others. I know that there are.
The second question I wanted to ask in this area has to do with the province of British Columbia and the non-Indigenous population. I think one of the most tragic things, for me, is seeing the depth of confusion and, frankly, some of the really toxic narrative out there around Indigenous governance, elected governance, hereditary governance within Indigenous Nations, historic and ancient laws, ancient Indigenous laws. It really comes from a lack of education, a lack of understanding and an overall ignorance, from myself and from many British Columbians, around Indigenous governance, laws and cultural practices.
I’m wondering if the minister has engaged his ministry on how it is that the province can, I think, do better in educating British Columbians about the extremely complex landscape that existed here pre-colonization and assist with Indigenous Peoples who are, as we highlighted in the first question, still trying to reorganize after significant disruption by Crown governments over the last 150 years.
We need the space to be able to do this important work. Frankly, it’s not there. We see it in Fairy Creek. We saw it with the Wet’suwet’en. We see it in every one of these disputes that gets to a boil in the province — really unfortunate and toxic narratives around it.
I’m just wondering if the minister has turned his mind to how it is that we, as a provincial government, can better inform the people of British Columbia about what this means and the important work that’s underway due to the good work that we’ve done to this date.
Hon. M. Rankin: Very thoughtful question again. First of all, although I acknowledge entirely that the work has to be done with non-Indigenous populations at the provincial level, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out, of course, that the primary responsibility, constitutionally, for this engagement is the federal government. I think they have recently been stepping up to do the right thing.
When I was growing up, I did not know about the legacy of residential schools. It took…. The population, I think, was largely unaware. When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report came out with its calls to action, I think it was a wake-up call for lots of Canadians who just simply were blissfully ignorant about our history. We are coming to terms with that.
I had the opportunity yesterday to be at a conference with one of my heroes, Justice Murray Sinclair, who was a senator and was speaking, like me, to the Senate, the Independent Senators Group, to talk about the federal bill on the declaration act. He led that work. That was groundbreaking work, and I think it was educational for the Canadian population to know about the complexity that the member referred to. The non-Indigenous population did not know very much, and I was one of them. But I think we all are learning more.
I’m very proud that our government is working to make sure that our children aren’t as ignorant as I was when I grew up and knew nothing about this history. For example, in the K-to-12 curriculum, there has been a transformation. All subjects and grades in the B.C. school curriculum now include Indigenous perspectives, and several Indigenous-focused courses were introduced as part of the new graduation program. K-to-12 educators gain a non-instructional day to focus on Indigenous perspectives so they can be able to communicate that history.
I think it would be fair to say that it’s impossible to graduate from high school without knowing something about the Indigenous culture and history in our province. That’s how it should be. It’s taken a long time.
Also, the commitment our government has made to revitalizing Indigenous languages — $50 million provided in 2018 to do that. Having a First Peoples Cultural Council, a Crown corporation accountable to me as Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation –– that’s doing that hard work to make sure we don’t lose the language, which is so important to culture.
Specifically, to the member’s question, I think one instance of that, one important aspect of that, is that we now have the ability to graduate from a law school in our province, the first in Canada, with a degree in both common law and Indigenous law. That is, of course, what our government, with the federal government, put at the University of Victoria in their Indigenous law program. So you will be able to understand the two traditions that the member alluded to.
These are just some of the things, and the opportunity that the declaration act — I want to end on this point — provides for us to do that generation-changing work is an opportunity we should not miss.
A. Olsen: I’m often reminded of the fact that we are where we are today after 170 — roughly, let’s say — years that have passed. We often want change to happen. You know, I think there was a lot of expectation that the day after the DRIPA passed there was going to be remarkable change.
I think, from a legal perspective, there was a pretty remarkable change, but it was not visible to the people. I’m often reminded, and I think the minister has captured that well in his response, that we have a long journey ahead of us, just like it has been a long journey to get to where we are today. So I certainly appreciate that, and I recognize that it’s not going to be possible to get in front of everybody to inform them of things that they don’t necessarily know or understand or that are still actually being defined by Indigenous People and that we have a right to define and take as long as we darned well want to, to define it. So I appreciate the response to those questions.
Just a couple more questions with respect to the Declaration Act. Section 3 of the Declaration Act talks about legislative alignment. We ran into this already in this first spring session of this new government with respect to the Firearm Act, just in terms of the potential impact that that act had on Indigenous hunters, as one example, and some of the specific language in that act.
It became pretty clear that the specific rights and title holders who had been in the courts in B.C. and been all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada hadn’t necessarily had their consultation on that act. I’m just wondering if the minister can talk a little bit about section 3 of the DRIPA with respect to the legislative alignment and the expectation that he has, with respect.
I recognize that this is part of the action plan, but I think the new laws coming forward are the ones that are going to be the most pertinent. There’s new legislation being proposed every day in these sessions –– and then the plan to review older legislation that’s already on the books.
Hon. M. Rankin: The member has put his finger on a very key aspect of the Declaration Act that we should have spent longer today speaking of, which is the alignment of laws contemplated in section 3.
I guess that there are two categories. There are new laws, and the member referred to a new law — a bill — that was before our Legislature recently. Then there are all of those laws and regulations that are on the books, thousands of them. How we are committed to aligning those laws over time to make sure that we are consistent with the values of the UNDRIP…. That’s a tall order.
I’m hoping…. I extend my hand to the member and ask his assistance as we go about that work. There was a change that he was responsible for ensuring took place as we debated one bill on firearms in the Legislature, because he quite properly pointed out the Saanich treaty, a Douglas treaty, and its implications. That law could have an implication for those kinds of treaty rights. Of course, the law was amended accordingly.
But we have lots of work to do. There’s lots of work to do. How do we deal with that body of laws on our statute books and in our regulations to ensure that they are consistent?
Some people may remember the challenge we had when the Constitution of Canada was changed to provide equality rights in 1982. How do you change all of the laws that might be discriminatory from a gender perspective? In the case of British Columbia, the Attorney General of the time, Mr. Brian Smith, used the Law Reform Commission to undertake that work. In other parts of the country it was done through the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Attorney General, or elsewhere.
How do we do it here? And how do we do it when we do it in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples? It’s not simply a pure legal exercise. How do we prioritize all those laws that are on the books, all of those regulations? What’s more important? Well, we work in partnership. We start with the ones that we are advised are the most important.
Sometimes people tell me things like forestry legislation, child and family legislation, heritage conservation legislation. But it’s not for me to do that. It’s to be done in cooperation with Indigenous governing bodies and institutions of this sort.
That is the existing statute law that has to be reformed. Then again, we have to make sure that when laws are coming forward for debate in the form of bills, there’s an opportunity for us to engage with the Indigenous leadership so that the bills that are coming forward that could conceivably have an impact on their interests are addressed. That is what we’re trying to do.
I hope that the secretariat that’s being contemplated — and will be, hopefully, in place soon — will be the forum for much of that work to be done. It’s not easy, but it’s important. It’s never been done before. We’re committed to doing it and to doing it right.
The Chair: Just for clarification, Members, discussing legislation or the need for legislation is not in the purview of the Committee of Supply.
A. Olsen: Thank you for that note. I’m wondering if maybe my next question is…. I look to the Clerk and to the Chair for direction on this. Happy for to you shut me down if that’s the case.
I just wanted to ask the minister if there’s been any discussion with the Attorney General with respect to litigation directives. I note that the former federal Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, a few years back, gave a directive.
I’m just wondering, just in the context of the alignment and the commitments that were made — I’ll speak very generally about that — in the declaration act, if perhaps the minister has engaged with the Attorney General to discuss the potential for a similar litigation directive here in British Columbia as a part of an alignment with respect to kind of bringing ourselves into the 21st century and making sure that the type of litigation that’s happening in this province is in alignment with the commitments that we’ve made to Indigenous People through the DRIPA.
The Chair: Yes, Member, that question is in order.
Hon. M. Rankin: Again, I thank the member for the question. Trying to think of the best way to proceed.
I have spoken at length with the former federal Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, MP, about the directive that the member refers to at the federal level. I think it would be fair to report that the First Nations Leadership Council has engaged with me on seeking something similar to a litigation directive in our province.
I would remind the member, however, that that decision as to whether that should be forthcoming is the responsibility of the Attorney General, and he will no doubt make a decision in due course.
A. Olsen: Thank you. I sense that over the next little while, there are going to be a few responses from the minister that remind me that I should be talking to other ministers about them.
I think it’s important, just in terms of the secretariat…. This is a good way for me to, I think, segue to questions about the secretariat specifically. One of the challenges…. We learned about this challenge, since 2017-2018, when we were talking about salmon, for example, where there are seven, six, five ministries that all have some kind of regulatory or legislative or agency over something to do with salmon.
I think that when we’re taking a look at the declaration act…. We proposed a secretariat for salmon, and now there’s a secretariat for aligning the ministries around the commitments that are made in the declaration act, recognizing, of course, that having no centralizing body makes it very, very difficult and makes it very difficult to have these kinds of conversations.
I know that the minister and I have had a conversation in the past about the secretariat, and he mentioned, earlier in budget estimates, in discussions with the member for Peace River North, that the secretariat is coming and should be announced by the end of this year. I’m just wondering, perhaps, if the minister can maybe shed some light for me and for British Columbians on where that….
I mean, I’ve got some ideas of where it should be located. I really have a strong opinion. I think that this ministry, Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, is a really critical and important ministry in terms of bringing all of this together and ensuring a cross-government approach. I’m just wondering if that is the perspective that the minister shares in bringing this forward or if there have been some decisions that have been made around how this ministry, Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, is going to play a role in that.
Hon. M. Rankin: I first want to acknowledge that the member is absolutely right. There is a challenge to coordinate amongst the various ministries. He used salmon as, I think, an excellent example. That’s why, in his wisdom, the Premier thought a secretariat made sense, rather than leaving specific responsibilities for that coordination, as he called it, in the hands of one minister.
The secretariat is designed to help government coordinate reconciliation efforts to make sure that new laws and policies are consistent with the UN declaration. That’s what it’s about, because there are a lot of ministries doing a lot of different things. The idea of the secretariat to coordinate, I think is an excellent one.
As the minister responsible for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, however, I want the member to know that I am proud to work very closely with my colleagues, both in social ministries and in resource areas, and have a good relationship. That kind of responsibility to collaborate at the ministerial level is built into executive government.
The member said he had a strong opinion as to where the secretariat should fit in the B.C. government. I welcome the opportunity to talk with the member about his ideas. That is exactly what has been the subject of a lot of conversations with the First Nations Leadership Council, which has provided a very thoughtful submission in writing on this topic, as well as my conversations with some of the leading experts on public administration in Canada. I’ve had a very exhilarating set of conversations with leading experts in this field.
We want to get it right. On the one hand, we want to make sure that it’s serious and senior enough that First Nations and other Indigenous organizations recognize that it’s being taken seriously by government. We also want to make sure that it’s not window dressing, that it truly has that responsibility and gets to the meat of the matter. Exactly where that should fit in the system is, indeed, a live issue, and I would welcome the member’s views on how we can get that right.
A. Olsen: I think the minister is absolutely grappling with the exact things that need to be grappled with in this. He’s absolutely right in terms of making sure that it has the authority.
I think it goes back to a question that I asked of the minister a number of months back, or a number of weeks back, with respect to forestry, and the role that the minister sees…. How the minister sees the role of the Minister of Indigenous Relations, whether he’s in the seat or somebody else. I really see that there needs to be a strong advocate on behalf of Indigenous People within government, one that has authority and one that isn’t necessarily the Premier. I think the Premier has another role as well.
We can have further conversations from that. I have not actually had a conversation with the First Nations Leadership Council about their perspective either. Perhaps we can leave that for another day, although I really would like to maybe explore a little bit further with the minister whether or not he sees his role as one of being supportive of what his colleagues and the other ministers are doing…. Whether he sees the role of the minister as supportive or as one that has more authority, now that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act has been passed, to ensure that the other ministers and the other ministries comply with the commitments that have been made.
I personally believe that the quickest way to erode the confidence in the declaration is if the government is not following through on the commitments that have been made. I’m just interested to hear what the minister’s perspectives are on that.
Hon. M. Rankin: I think the member’s right, The declaration act is really significant legislation. We all know that. Again, I acknowledge the member’s participation in making it as strong a law as it is. It’s only going to work — this agenda, this commitment, this generational commitment to reconciliation — if we all work together.
I take it as my core responsibility, to answer the member’s question, that I engage with my colleagues to make sure that reconciliation is top of mind. But I really don’t need to do that, although I will. The reason for that is that every single minister’s mandate letter speaks to that very commitment right up front: CleanBC, dealing with COVID, reconciliation. You can read them all, and they all say that because it’s a government commitment.
I am the minister responsible for Indigenous relations and reconciliation, so I suppose I have a particular commitment to that. But all my colleagues do, and I can report to the member confidently that that is taken extremely seriously around the cabinet table and in conversations with my colleagues. I think the proof will be in the actions that this government takes during its mandate over the next 3½ years.
A. Olsen: Thank you for that, Minister. I would say that it’s not an easy task that the minister has, being the first minister to have to navigate this. It’s a significant challenge, and I wish the minister very well in navigating it.
I’m going to have to shift gears here a little bit. Earlier in the discussion around the budget there was discussion around funding of agreements. I think there are a couple of different parts to fundamentally changing the relationship between Crown and Indigenous government. One of those is the legislative framework, which we’ve spent the better part of the last 45 minutes navigating and discussing — the legislative side of it, the work that we do in this chamber.
I think that it’s a really important thing to highlight, as the member from Kamloops north was talking about — the funds that are available to the minister to be able to provide agreements. The minister was saying that there’s always the ability to go back to Treasury Board.
I think it’s important to acknowledge at this point that Indigenous nations and Indigenous leaders are looking for the ability to see benefits off of the territories that they’ve inhabited since time immemorial and not have to have that relationship necessarily be going to the provincial government. That doesn’t actually reflect the rights and title that I think the court system has said repeatedly, and in addition, this declaration act that we passed.
I’m wondering if the minister can maybe talk a little bit about the other piece of this, which is the ability for Indigenous nations to self-realize through being able to extract economic benefit from their territories in a way that they see fit. That’s true self-determination. Having to come and ask the minister or to sign an agreement with the provincial government, asking for money and have that minister then have to go and argue and defend those arguments to Treasury Board is not, I think, the full self-determination that we’re talking about.
I’m just interested in the minister’s perspectives on this aspect of providing stable, renewable, reliable revenue streams for Indigenous Nations. I know that this government has done some of that through gaming revenues, and there have been benefits agreements. However, those benefits agreements are tied to specific activities that are, frankly, a reflection of the interest of the provincial government, not necessarily….
I’m not going to say it’s not, because it could very well be, the reflection of the desires of an Indigenous Nation. However, it’s not necessarily that, and those benefits agreements don’t necessarily reflect that. I’m just wondering if the minister has contemplated the other aspect of this, which is the ability to realize economic benefit from the land without having to necessarily be tied to coming to a provincial or a federal government. I’ll leave it at that.
Hon. M. Rankin: It is true that there are a number of transactional agreements that have, over time, engaged nations. He talked of them as benefits of different kinds, benefits agreements in the pipeline context or in the forest context or in the fishing context and the like. But I think his point is an important one: that at the core of self-determination is that nations need money, like any other government, to provide government services to their members.
That is why, in 2018, when the document I referred to earlier, the Concrete Actions document, was worked on and agreed to by the First Nations Summit, the Assembly of First Nations, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and British Columbia, one of the key goals –– to the point the member made very directly –– was to strengthen the economy and a renewed fiscal relationship.
A key theme that is at the fore here is strengthening Indigenous economies. We talk a lot about a new government-to-government relationship. That requires, however, new approaches and models for coexistence so First Nations can exercise their respective jurisdictions and share their respective revenues generated from resource activities on their lands. This relationship is no different than the one we have with other levels of government.
The commitment is made in the Concrete Actions document to “design and implement new models of fiscal relations, including a systemic fiscal mechanism consistent with” the following kinds of principles. I won’t read them all but, very specifically to the member’s question, recognize “the economic component of Aboriginal title.”
In 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada decided the Tŝilhqot’in case, finding the existence of Aboriginal title on 1,700 square kilometres of a declared title area, and it was important, in the court’s judgment, to say that there is “an inescapable economic component” to Aboriginal title. That’s the language of the court.
This document has the government of British Columbia agreeing with Indigenous leaderships that there is an economic component of Aboriginal title that has to be recognized, and to recognize First Nations as key players and drivers in the economic landscape, and to recognize, as I said earlier, that all governments, including Indigenous governments, require multiple streams of revenues to support their capacity to be strong and effective in serving the needs of their citizens. It goes on to talk about the reciprocal accountabilities and transparency in the governments that must be created in a democracy.
I think the member is absolutely right. We need to reorient our fiscal relationship with First Nations. We committed in 2018 to do just that. It’s a task that will take a lot of time and a lot of patience, but we’re on our way to that new place.
A. Olsen: I’m very encouraged with the minister’s response and the minister’s keen awareness of this. I would say that it’s important to acknowledge that one of the key tools of domination of the Crown over Indigenous People was the making illegal the Indigenous Peoples’ involvement in the economy that they had developed and were very well developed at the time of contact. I can only think of our reef net, our SXOLE, that sacred fishing technology that our people used in the Salish Sea as Straits Salish People, and it being outlawed and not being allowed to use it because it was too efficient.
Shortly after, the power balance changed. After a devastating virus attacked Indigenous People and the power balance changed, the European settlers no longer needed Indigenous People as provisioners. We largely saw the economic involvement of Indigenous People — entrepreneurs, well-developed entrepreneurial activities — be taken away and made illegal.
I think that, just as we have changed statutes and are looking at making the laws align, this is going to be an absolutely critical and key component. If we are serious about this — and I believe that the minister is, and I believe that the government is — we will see this change happen, and it won’t be after all of the resources have been harvested. It will be before that. It won’t be when there’s nothing left there. It will be when….
I think that one of the key narratives, historically, in this province and in this country has been that Indigenous people can’t be trusted with land. That’s what this all comes down to: a relationship between Europeans and Indigenous People and land, who controls land and who controls the ability to generate the revenue and the economic development off of that land.
I really appreciate the minister’s response. I can see from his response that his eyes are wide open to the fact that this is something that’s going to absolutely need to change if we are serious about what our commitments are to reconciliation.
I want to shift gears here, if I may. Sorry for that long-winded response to the minister’s response. I just want to confirm the time that I’m going to here. Are we closing down at about 5:25 — to the Clerk? Is that correct?
The Chair: It’s 5:15, Member.
A. Olsen: It’s 5:15. Okay. Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I would like to shift gears here a little bit to talk about cultural preservation and revitalization. I sent a note to the minister in the House the other day about a project that is going on in my community, but these are projects that are going on around the province in terms of rebuilding houses of governance and houses of culture, I’ll say. In Coast Salish territory — in our territory, W̱SÁNEĆ — they are longhouses, but they take many forms.
I got the opportunity to see the opening of the Heiltsuk longhouse at Bella Bella. What I saw there, and what I witnessed there, was a beautiful demonstration of Indigenous law, Indigenous culture and Indigenous governance. I can’t help but draw the connection to how that new home for that place brought to life what was…. How that came alive in front of our eyes.
I’m just wondering if the minister, in terms of cultural preservation and revitalization…. He’s talked about languages the government has considered making investments in the buildings, in the physical infrastructure of governance. The ancestral governance, the ancient governance that happened, happened in these houses.
I can’t help but draw the connection — as we are talking about Indigenous self-determination, as we’re talking about Indigenous governance and the ability of Indigenous People or the encouragement of Indigenous People to sort out, sort through the complexities of the world that we have now in 2021 — if this wouldn’t be assisted with a substantial investment like the province made in Indigenous languages, in those houses of governance and culture?
Hon. M. Rankin: An excellent question. I, too, have been moved by the longhouses in which I’ve had the opportunity to participate in cultural events. I know what he’s talking about to be part…. For example, he mentioned Heiltsuk and the Bella Bella example of that new longhouse. I’ve had the opportunity to be in feast halls with Wet’suwet’en and observe how their governance system has worked, and it’s very moving. If a non-Indigenous person has not been part of that in the past, it’s extraordinary.
We wish to preserve that culture, just as we wish to preserve languages. It’s sad to many of us that so many of these languages are spoken by such a small number of Elders, yet there’s wonderful work going on.
The museum, last year, did a terrific job with the language issue. I’m very proud to have a Crown corporation consisting — I think the only one — solely of Indigenous people, called the First Peoples Cultural Council. So $50 million, as the member pointed out, was provided in Budget 2018 — multi-year funding — to ramp up work in First Nations, not just in language, but in culture. I point out that the First Peoples Cultural Council supported 11 Indigenous cultural heritage infrastructure grants, for a total of $3.75 million in funding this year, some of which, I hope, achieves some of the things that the member wishes in the cultural realm.
I had the opportunity to be part of a virtual ceremony just earlier last month, when the Premier — and I think it’s fair to say, without any risk of sounding political — was successful in persuading the federal government to come to the table, and to put a significant amount of money on the table, to deal with the destruction of the residential school at Lower Post, B.C.
I was moved by the ceremony. There were certain members of that community that were afraid and could not face going into that building, downstairs, where some horrible atrocities occurred during the residential school era. To see the plans for the new building, and the cultural renaissance of that community, and to see the joy in the people’s eyes that had witnessed this event, was very, very moving.
I acknowledge that the federal government put the lion’s share of that money, as they should. Much of this, as the member will appreciate, is in Indigenous communities, for which the federal government has primary fiscal responsibility. But it was this Premier and this government, I think fairly put, that persuaded the government of Canada to do the right thing. That would be an example of the kind that the member talked about in Bella Bella, which I will never forget.
A. Olsen: I’m certainly not going to suggest that anything other than what the Premier had done — and what, perhaps, the Minister of Indigenous Relations and other ministers do — in order to advocate on behalf of Indigenous People and the commitments that we as a Crown government have made on behalf of this institution would be anything but exactly what the job is that we would expect of the minister and the ministers and the Premier. Certainly appreciate that work. It’s not political at all. It’s the commitment that we’ve made, and he and the minister should be congratulated for that work. It’s important work that needs to continue.
With respect to the First Nations cultural and language council…. Sorry, I’m completely not getting the name of it right here. The investments that are being made in culture and language and revitalization are critical. Our relatives from the Métis Nation B.C. have raised to me, directly, that they feel very much left out in terms of the investments that were made in languages. As I check the legislation for the First Peoples’ Heritage, Language and Culture Act, the preamble talks about: “…to (a) protect, revitalize, and enhance First Nations heritage, language, culture and arts.”
Of course, we know that the very specific language of First Nations means that our relatives who are Métis or who are Inuit would not be able to access that fund. I’m wondering if the…. Maybe I’m not allowed to ask the question about the specific act, but I’ll ask the question of the minister — if there’s been a consideration as to whether or not there’s a way to be able to also invest in the preservation of a very distinct linguistic group and language of the Métis people.
The Chair: Member, you’d be correct. The place to ask about specific legislation would be in the House.
A. Olsen: Okay, thank you. I’ll reframe my question, then.
With respect to Métis languages that the minister has raised several times throughout the discussions today around the investments that were made, rightly so, in 2018, of Indigenous languages…. Unfortunately, the Métis language has been excluded from being able to access those benefits, and I’m wondering if the minister has considered removing those obstacles.
Hon. M. Rankin: I share the member’s enthusiasm with the work of the FPCC, the First Peoples Cultural Council, and the $50 million that they’re working with to do this incredibly important but very difficult job revitalizing languages.
I found it surprising that there were 35 different Indigenous languages in British Columbia. I didn’t know that. I think we have over half of them in Canada here in this province, and some of them are very distinct. Some of the Cree languages, for example…. Cree can understand each other, whether they’re from Saskatchewan or northern Quebec. But in our case, some of the language groups, like the Ktunaxa and the Tla-o-qui-aht, are very, very distinct and small, and it takes a lot of work to make sure that those languages are preserved. The work is undergoing now, and I’m very proud of the council for that work.
As for the Métis language the member refers to, he, I think, is correct in pointing out that the statutory mandate is to deal with First Nation languages. Given that we have 204 First Nations and 35 languages, that is work that I would urge them to continue to do. But I can say that I have spoken specifically about this issue with the federal Minister of Heritage, Monsieur Guilbeault, about the Métis languages, about how they can work together. The federal government has new, as the member will know, Indigenous languages legislation and funding as well. I’m hoping that British Columbia can achieve some of that. That may be the route, short of statutory amendment here, to do that work.
I think we have our hands full, in short, with preserving the languages for First Nations in our province. I acknowledge the important work of preserving Métis language. I think the federal government is in a better position to do that than are we.
A. Olsen: I, of course, recognize the linguistic diversity of this province is vast and recognize the challenge that we have. I think it could be probably argued that $50 million isn’t going to be nearly enough to preserve those languages. I know that in my own territory of W̱SÁNEĆ, our language SENĆOŦEN is really coming alive through our school. It is, in large part, due to the fact that there have been investments that have been made for people to be able to take the time to do the important work of preserving that language. It’s actually not even an act of preservation. It’s a more active role than that. It’s one in which, like I was talking about earlier, we need to be able to have people who are just thinking about the language and not thinking about anything else.
This isn’t going to be preserved or enhanced through volunteerism. It’s only going to be preserved and enhanced through people actively working on this situation daily. As the minister’s ministry refers to Indigenous People — and Indigenous People in this country are inclusive of First Nations, Métis and Inuit — I would suggest that we also have a role. But I recognize that that role, at this stage, may be to advocate on behalf of the Métis People and Inuit People in this province, with the federal government.
I’ll be encouraged to continue engaging with the minister with respect to how we as a province can, perhaps, maybe do more than that as well as maybe not undermine the work that’s being done, as well, with First Nations People in the province.
I’m going to switch gears one more time. I see we’ve got about ten minutes left. This is going to probably get into some areas that I wouldn’t say are less comfortable, but it’s going to be more difficult.
I think, just in terms of when we see the kinds of roadblocks that happen, the tension around land and around resource development that we see on Vancouver Island…. We saw it in the Wet’suwet’en territory. I’m wondering how the minister…. Often times it gets put to the Minister of Forests, or it gets put to the Minister of Energy and Mines, or it gets put to the minister that’s responsible for Lands and Natural Resources. It gets moved from being a relational issue or a relational situation with Indigenous People to a resource situation.
I’m just wondering: what is the minister’s role? When we see the video that we saw last week, a very sad and disappointing confrontation between resource workers and Indigenous People, what is the minister’s role in intervening in that situation? Or does the minister play a role in intervening in that situation?
Hon. M. Rankin: Thank you to the member for the question. It’s a timely one.
I can say that I was disappointed and disgusted by the verbal abuse and the racist language that I also saw on the video to which the member refers. There’s no place in B.C. for racism — period. Our government is committed to addressing racism at its core.
In the context that the member refers to, the RCMP are involved. I understand that the harvesting may have paused in the area, pending the outcome of an independent investigation.
The member asks what I, as minister, do in circumstances of that kind. I know that in the context of the Fairy Creek example — I think he was alluding to that — the Pacheedaht are in the final stages of a treaty negotiation. I’m hoping that we can achieve that and, through that, avoid some of the polarization with respect to forestry activities in their territory.
We are strongly in support, and the treaty will confirm our support, of Pacheedaht’s desire to have a greater degree of management and stewardship of their territory. After all, that’s what treaty is about, and that is what I think government and government-to-government engagement is about as well.
We’re going to continue to work with the Pacheedaht, engage with them as they develop their integrated resource stewardship plan for the area. That’s something our ministry can contribute to, along with our colleagues in the ministry responsible for forestry.
These conflicts are to be avoided and are sad for all of us when they occur. The incident, particularly, that the member referred to is a very disturbing one to me.
A. Olsen: I’m trying to do my best, Minister, as we get to maybe my last question or my last couple of questions, to not actually reference specific situations, because I recognize that I don’t speak on behalf of and I don’t have authority to speak on behalf of those specific Indigenous Nations or their leaders.
I’m hoping to actually use these situations to talk about the overall approach of this provincial government, rather than any of the specific ones, because I recognize that the minister is involved in these conversations, as are the leaders. But I appreciate the response with respect to that specific situation.
There are a couple of other instances of this that I think I can probably package up. It’s more about, actually, the minister’s relationship to the cabinet colleagues, to the cabinet, as well, and I think this gets to the heart of a number of questions that I’ve asked today.
When I think of the report on racism in the health care system and the specific situations around, say, for example, whistleblower legislation and the ability and the protection for people within health care to be able to provide that information….
When I think about litigation that’s going on in the provincial government — that’s the Ministry of Health — and the provincial government litigation, the decisions to maybe appeal a court decision at a B.C. Court of Appeal — a B.C. Supreme Court decision…. The decision of another minister in another ministry to appeal that decision when it would further erode and undermine the confidence and the trust — sorry, I should say potentially could further erode and undermine the confidence — that Indigenous people have in the commitments that this government has made around reconciliation….
Another example of this is the woman from Cowichan. Maybe not Cowichan, but Hulq’umi’num’, anyway — one of our relatives here in Coast Salish or Hulq’umi’num’-speaking territories. They tried to name their company in an Indigenous language, yet B.C. registry services….
I’m just wondering. When these situations come up, does the minister get involved in saying that the overall action of this government is to move towards reconciliation and that we need to be able to make changes to accommodate for these kinds of things and become a fierce advocate for those changes within other ministries? I recognize that soon, maybe, a secretariat will be responsible for this. But I’m just wondering, as we wrap up here, if the minister can provide, in one final question, the role that the minister plays in this with the cabinet overall.
Hon. M. Rankin: Although I do have some concluding remarks, they will be brief. The member has signalled this will be his last question, and it’s a very good one on which to end.
I want to start by reiterating what I’ve said on several occasions, because I think it’s important. Yes, I am the minister, and I’m proud to be responsible for efforts of the government at one level for reconciliation. But all ministries, all ministers, have this as their central mandate: CleanBC –– our commitment to address the existential threat of climate change –– is on everyone’s mind and everyone’s mandate; reconciliation; and getting us through the pandemic. Then we have our specific issues. But I guess I start by saying that, because I don’t want the member to portray this one ministry as solely responsible.
So to his example, FLNRO, Ministry of Forests, is equally responsible. In the context of the old growth report, the Merkel-Gorley report that the member is well aware of, the first recommendation is that we “Engage the full involvement of Indigenous leaders and organizations to review the report and any subsequent policy or strategy development and implementation.”
Indigenous engagement will take time, and not every First Nation, as the member would certainly agree, has the same perspective on any issue. Nor should they. I guess I start by saying…. My first point is that all members of the cabinet are engaged.
At the political level, sitting around the executive council table, I believe I do as good a job as I can in addressing my mandate as the member particularly responsible for Indigenous relations and reconciliation. But I am responsible, as all members are, for the well-being of all British Columbian residents. As part of the executive council, we all share that responsibility.
I get involved, therefore, advocating at the political level, ensuring that that aspect of my mandate is at the fore. But I want to stress that I also have a very talented ministry, consisting of a lot of dedicated public servants who I’ve had the opportunity, over the last few months, to get to know and, in some cases, get to re-engage with after many, many years.
What’s really exciting is that they’re all over the province. They deal with different nations, with different interests. So at the staff level, I want the member to appreciate that they are engaged with their counterparts in various ministries, be they social ministries or resource ministries. They get involved and try to do the same thing at the local level, a nation-to-nation level, as I try to do around the cabinet table.
The member will understand that if we are to do this right, if reconciliation is to really be something that we achieve, it’s going to take all hands on deck. Our government, through our Premier, has made it clear that that is everyone’s responsibility. Perhaps mine is particularly acute, but everyone has that responsibility. I do that as a member of executive council, but equally important, my team, my staff, the people in the ministry are doing that day in, day out, on the ground, across this beautiful province.