The BC Legislative Assembly unanimously passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act in November 2019.
Section 4 of the Act requires the government to table an Action Plan to ensure key steps toward reconciliation are taken, to ensure the government is accountable for their commitments to Indigenous Peoples.
The BC NDP tabled their 89-point Action Plan and I had the honour of responding to the Ministerial Statement on behalf of the BC Green Caucus.
We have heard the government repeatedly celebrate that we are the only jurisdiction to pass a Declaration Act. Two years later, we must move quickly from the talk of reconciliation, to the action.
In the end the key question is this: will these actions meet the objectives of the UN Declaration?
Only time will tell.
I rise today to provide the B.C. Green caucus response to the ministerial statement on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act action plan. First off, I want to acknowledge Elder Shirley Alphonse and Butch Dick, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Joan Phillip, Chief Jerry Jack, Cheryl Casimer. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.
I raise my hands to my Chief — two W̱SÁNEĆ people in the same place, it’s fantastic — Chief Don Tom, vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. It’s wonderful to see you here today, Chief. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.
I recognize all the hereditary and elected Indigenous leaders, Elders, Matriarchs and youth that are here today and that have remained in their communities to do the important work to do on a daily basis. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.
I’m grateful for your wisdom, your patience and your long suffering. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.
I raise my hands to Jessica Wood. We celebrate your perseverance, your expertise and your hard work today. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.
I raise my hands to Scott Fraser, the former Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation who stewarded the first part of this work through this legislature. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.
Putting together this action plan has required a tremendous effort and good faith, and expectations are high.
[SENĆOŦEN was spoken.]
I’m SȾHENEP, from the Tsartlip village, in the W̱SÁNEĆ territory. My father is Carl Olsen. I grew up fishing alongside him in the Saanich Inlet. I clearly remember his instructions to me. He said: “Keep your rod tip up, chum, and tension on the line.” We didn’t celebrate the fish that got away, the fish we almost caught, the fight, no matter how epic. It was nearly good enough. When it comes to free, prior and informed consent, good enough, almost there or even a majority of support does not exist. You either have consent or you don’t.
This provincial government, I encourage you to not celebrate almost there or a job well done. I recognize the incredible work that’s been put into getting this action plan to be where it is today, but I’m not in this place, in this chamber, to cheerlead that work or this action plan. So as we undertake the necessary work outlined in section 4 of the Declaration Act, I will keep my father’s good advice in my heart. Today and every day, I plan on keeping tension on the line.
The question we should be asking ourselves today is this. Will the actions in this document meet the objectives of the UN declaration? Do they result in self-determination, self-government, recognition and respect for rights and title? Will these actions end Indigenous-specific racism and discrimination? Will they improve the social, cultural and economic well-being of Indigenous peoples in British Columbia?
In addition, I ask whether these actions in this plan are more than what the ministers and ministries were already planning to do. And once these actions become achievements, will they amount to the promise of the Declaration Act?
This government has taken the first step forward, passing the Declaration Act. Unfortunately, we have already seen them use it both as a shield and as a sword. How many times in the past two years have we heard it used as an excuse for action or inaction? Success is not evaluated by the quality of this government’s or any future government’s intentions but, rather, the outcomes for my relatives and all Indigenous peoples in this province.
Can we self-determine? Are Crown government agents harassing and haranguing us? Do we still encounter aggressive racism when we seek public services? Are the government officials on the other side of the table there in good faith? As the action plan says, can we expect government to develop relationships based on respect, recognition and the exercise of Aboriginal title and rights and reconciliation of Aboriginal and Crown titles and jurisdictions?
Because this has not been the experience of Indigenous peoples in the past. As the Nuchatlaht are learning, despite the passing of the Declaration Act, it is still not happening today.
The framing of this document is fine. It’s important to note the language in the opening letter attached to this document. I believe it most clearly articulates what I fear we are to expect from this and future governments: excuses. The opening letter is littered with excuses. They linger and loiter in nearly every paragraph.
“This has been challenging work in challenging times. Over the past two years, while we worked together on this plan, we faced incredible adversities. We have been grappling with a global pandemic, a toxic drug supply crisis, and our communities were ravaged by wildfires, floods and heatwaves. Through all of these challenges, Indigenous peoples have carried a disproportionate burden.”
It certainly has been a challenging time, just as the last 170 years have been for Indigenous peoples in British Columbia.
It certainly has been a challenging time, just as the last 170 years have been for Indigenous peoples in British Columbia. Imagine living and governing in a system that was destined to fail the people you are serving. Try governing with little or no access to resources, to revenue. Attempt to solve the desperate problem created by legislated poverty with no resources. Your homeland is made a wasteland. Your fisheries collapsed. Your culture and language made illegal. Try governing through the decades of built up angst, mistrust and frustration, all elegantly designed to divide you against your very own family.
This needs to be said. Because this government wasn’t too challenged, even in the most challenging times, to do some things. As the torrential rains pounded the south coast, as waters rose, the very same morning British Columbians were fleeing their communities, this government was approving yet more resources for the police to raid the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders.
The letter continues: “Even in the face of these overwhelming challenges, Indigenous peoples throughout the province continue to work with us on this action plan, determined to create a better future for all generations to come.” It’s this statement. It’s this statement that captures the essence of Indigenous leadership today and every day for the past 170 years in this province. Even as the Crown government delivered abuse, fruitless hours of bad faith negotiations and, frankly, purposeful mischief, Indigenous leaders continued to work with us. They continued to sit at the table with the determination to create a better future for all generations to come.
I’m wary. I’m wary that this document will become yet another ready-made excuse why this government or future governments are acting or why they cannot act, whichever benefits them at that point in time. Our steady march forward must continue.
However, for me, I must temper this celebration today with a warning. This document must not be weaponized in subtle and not so subtle ways to benefit this Crown government. It must truly be a document that benefits the Indigenous peoples and our province. There is nothing we can say here today that will prove this to us. Only time will tell.
I’d like to thank Mr. Speaker for the opportunity to say these few words today. I’d like to thank the minister for tabling this action plan and following through on section 4 of this important Declaration Act. I’d like to thank all of the Indigenous leaders that were here today. I would like to thank you for all of the important work that you do on behalf of our communities across our territories.