When it comes to reconciliation with Indigenous People in British Columbia the BC NDP say the right words. However, their actions fall well short of what is acceptable.
This week, I have been pointing out how they continue to use Forest and Range Consultation and Revenue Sharing agreements and how those agreements are inconsistent with the commitments the BC NDP made to Indigenous self-determination through the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.
It has become clear that the BC NDP policy with respect to Indigenous Nations, rights and title, and resource extraction is the same policy as the past. They deny the rights of Indigenous people, forcing them to establish those rights through the courts or at the treaty table. These are both processes that the provincial government has intentionally made as slow as possible and expensive, so they can exploit the space they have created for these interim revenue sharing agreements that advance the resource extraction policy of the provincial Crown.
This is far from good enough. The BC NDP and Premier John Horgan promised to be different but they are proving to be the same as the BC Liberals of the past.
It’s really painful for me to have to say this, but when it comes to Indigenous relations and reconciliation, this government has dusted off the 1990s playbook.
To be clear, the conflict and contention over the land base does not come from honouring human rights, it comes from denying and violating them.
The Attorney General told me in budget estimates that until an Aboriginal Crown has been negotiated by treaty, or decided by courts through litigation, the Crown maintains control over the land and resources. That is the old position of denial, and it’s not what our Supreme Court has said.
While the Premier talks about sovereignty and title for Indigenous People, our Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation is out there advancing the same old models of forestry agreements put in place by the B.C. Liberals over a decade ago. These agreements are based on the denial of Indigenous rights — saying rights are asserted; not accepting that they exist, not recognizing that nations have any ownership in land and resources. They are designed to achieve greater stability for the Crown to keep cutting trees, to keep extracting resources.
To the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, will the minister admit that these forest and range consultation and revenue-sharing agreements are designed to secure Crown opportunities to continue harvesting resources off the land?
Hon. D. Eby:
Thank you to the member for the question. I think it’s an important issue. Regrettably, I think the member fundamentally misstated what I told him in estimates. We talked about — and it was an important discussion — the importance of negotiation and partnership between government and First Nations as we wait for a formal treaty agreement or a decision from a court, a recognition of rights and title on the land, and that there are two competing sovereignties — Indigenous sovereignty and the European colonial sovereignty — and that reconciling those two is the work ahead of us.
So for him to stand in this place and pretend the conversation was about something else or that we’re taking an approach of three decades ago, when so much has happened since then, including all of us standing together on UNDRIP, is very regrettable.
Anybody and everybody in this province, I invite them to go and watch the estimates debate, because it’s not regrettable. What’s regrettable is that the Attorney General is trying to reframe what he told me. What he told me was that the way that Indigenous nations can get title over their lands is by going to court or by signing a treaty. Going to court took the Tŝilhqot’in 25 years. There are nations in this province right now that are languishing 30 years without a treaty.
While this government is pleading for the space to protect old-growth trees with Indigenous nations, they’ve been rapidly signing forest and range agreements to secure their ability to just keep cutting, and in fact, to silence Indigenous nations who want to speak out about these things. More than 130 of these forest and range agreements have been signed; 40 have been signed in 2021 alone. These agreements entrench racist stereotypes and the Attorney General’s position of denial.
The Attorney General tried to reassure me that the situation wasn’t as grim as I was making it out to be: “Perhaps it’s all about perspective.” The members of this chamber, and all British Columbians, should know the truth. This B.C. NDP government is currently arguing in court, in multiple pieces of litigation, the opposite of what the government is saying publicly: that certain Indigenous People don’t exist as a people, that their rights have been extinguished — if they ever had them in the first place — and that even if there are rights, they’re effectively meaningless.
When the Premier and others say the good words and have no intention of following through, it’s hurtful. We were out recognizing that pain that we were all feeling this week. To the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, how does the minister responsible for reconciliation stand on the sidelines while his colleagues drag us back to the dark decades of denial of rights?
Hon. D. Eby:
I hear the member’s passion on this. I think we all feel passionate about this really important work. I wouldn’t discount the agreements that government has reached with nations like Lake Babine, with Carrier-Sekani. Remarkable progress, section 7 agreements being negotiated across the province. There’s really important work happening. And, in fact, in one of the areas that the member raised in this House on a number of occasions, Fairy Creek, agreements with and partnership with the three nations there, respect for their positions, with respect to the resources in that area.
I take his point on litigation. There’s room for improvement. We’re working with the First Nations Leadership Council on guidelines related to litigation. But we’re not going to reach reconciliation through courts. And it’s not binary, treaty or courts, as the member said, nor did I say that in estimates. There are a number of agreements that we can reach with nations in between those two as we work towards a long-term and sustainable treaty.
I think this is important work. I think we’re making good progress, and there is more to do.