This week Premier John Horgan and Minister of Forests Katrine Conroy released their intentions paper to reform the forestry sector in British Columbia.
During the announcement Premier Horgan talked about Indigenous sovereignty and pointed to the threat of repeating British Columbia’s colonial past. In doing so, the premier illustrated how his government is dragging our colonial past into the present and further entrenching it in the future.
It is shameful for Premier Horgan to invoke the legacy of residential schools to justify his government’s lack of action to protect endangered old growth ecosystems. He said, “If we were to arbitrarily put deferrals in place [at Fairy Creek], that would be a return to the colonialism that we have so graphically been brought back to this week by the discovery in Kamloops.”
It was disturbing to watch Premier Horgan as he proposed reforms for the forestry sector that he knew would place Indigenous people at the centre of protests and further entrench an economic reliance on old growth logging in these communities.
To be clear, a premier who is talking about sovereignty and pointing to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA), which refers to the right to self-determination, should not be using the same transactional agreements as the former BC Liberal government that expressly did not believe in Indigenous sovereignty. But this is what the government continues to do.
The agreement that the Province of British Columbia signed with Pacheedaht First Nation on February 17, 2021, is a Forest and Range Consultation and Revenue Sharing Agreement. This is the same model of agreement that the BC Liberals created and used.
For years, the BC NDP loudly criticized the BC Liberals for these transactional forestry agreements. The BC NDP of the past were correct to criticize this approach because it epitomizes the colonial approach Premier Horgan claims he moved away from by passing DRIPA.
Nowhere in these take it or leave it agreements is United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples or DRIPA mentioned. Given what the Courts have said about Aboriginal title — that it is real, meaningful, and territorial in nature — such minimal agreements that provide limited benefits, do not affirm the human rights of Indigenous peoples, or recognize their rights, is a continuing expression of the legacy of colonialism.
This approach is just as reprehensible, and unprincipled, today as it was in the past.
There is nothing in the agreement that demonstrates this government is embracing Indigenous sovereignty.
This agreement clearly benefits the Province of British Columbia “to assist in achieving stability and greater certainty for forest and range resource development on Crown lands within the Traditional Territory.”
It’s not about self-determination. These agreements compensate Indigenous Nations for activities that the province desires to undertake – not the other way around.
There are clauses in the agreement that commit Pacheedaht to “not support or participate in any acts that frustrate, delay, stop or otherwise physically impede or interfere with provincially authorized forest activities.”
Further, the contract commits Pacheedaht to “promptly and fully cooperate with and provide its support to British Columbia in seeking to resolve any action that might be taken by a member of First Nation that is inconsistent with this Agreement.” Does that sound like self-determination to you?
I find section eight of the agreement particularly hard to read. The First Nation must provide the province with a list of socio-economic priorities, it must keep the list current, and each year the community must provide an annual report to the province “identifying all the expenditures made from the “Payment Account.” They must make these priorities publicly available, and finally, “British Columbia may, at its sole discretion and at the sole expense of Pacheedaht First Nation, require an audit of the expenditures made from the Payment Account to determine that all such expenditures were made in furtherance of the purposes and objectives.”
This section plays on an old stereotype that Indigenous people cannot be trusted with land or money. How can Premier Horgan say he is advancing sovereignty and self-determination and have such a clause in an agreement, especially one that was just signed in 2021 – 18 months after DRIPA was passed.
For decades Pacheedaht and other Indigenous Nations toiled, negotiating modern treaties in good faith with the Provincial and Federal Crown governments. Those negotiations went nowhere, as was the intention of the Crowns. So Indigenous leaders, struggling to lift their people and communities out of poverty, can hardly be criticized for signing these revenue sharing agreements when the Crown offers them.
When Premier Horgan invokes words like sovereignty to free up a little space as he feels increasing heat for his lack of action on protecting old growth, he does Indigenous people and all British Columbians a great disservice.
If Premier Horgan truly believed in sovereignty, he would not advance these BC Liberal-era agreements. Instead, he would be referencing the Supreme Court of Canada Tsilhqot’in decision from June 2014. The decision would feature prominently in his forest sector intentions paper, and it would form the core of forest and range agreements with Indigenous Nations.
To repeat it again – the agreement with Pacheedaht was signed in February 2021. So instead of negotiating an agreement that provides economic alternatives to logging, provides real choice to the nation, and enables the conservation of the endangered old growth in Pacheedaht traditional territory, the Provincial government negotiated an agreement that almost assured that those ancient trees would be cut.
This situation illustrates how deeply disingenuous the government has been as the tension in our forests continues to grow. Rather than offer conservation solutions, the BC NDP are effectively using BC Liberal policy to put Indigenous Nations in the centre of conflicts and use the language of reconciliation to cover for their inaction.
Clearly, colonialism is alive and well in Premier Horgan’s government.
Adam Olsen is Green Party MLA for Saanich North and the Islands.