Denial to Recognition: Unpacking the importance aboriginal title recognition in British Columbia

Apr 30, 2024 | 42-5, Bills, Blog, Governance, Indigenous, Legislature, Video | 2 comments

For decades the judicial branch has been strongly encouraging the legislative and executive branches of government to address aboriginal title through negotiation, agreement, and legislation.

The approach of the provincial government has been to litigate. This has resulted in the lawyers in the Attorney General’s office making some really unfortunate arguments about the existence and humanity of Indigenous people in order to defend the Crown position. Those arguments have had to be grounded in a policy of aboriginal rights and title denial. The courts have consistently found in favour of aboriginal title, and the provincial government has lost legal ground.

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (2019), and the Haida Nation Recognition Act (2024) are indications of the province changing strategy, away from the losing rights denial policy to one of recognition.

British Columbians want certainty. Negotiated agreements are far more certain than court decisions for everybody involved.

There is no doubt there are many concerns of property owners in British Columbia about what impact aboriginal title has on their property rights.

Consider these facts.

The Crown grants private property rights. The Courts have found aboriginal title to exist. Crown title is burdened by aboriginal title. Therefore, private property has also always been burdened by aboriginal title.

Through this bill, the Haida, only on the island-archipelago of Haida Gwaii, have acknowledged the private property rights through their laws. In this sense, it is only the private property rights of fee simple land owners on Haida Gwaii who have had their rights affirmed.

It’s the status quo that creates the uncertainty!

The other issue that has been raised is the cost of liabilities that are the result of alienating aboriginal title. Some say recognizing aboriginal title will force us to also recognize the liabilities. Just as these legislative actions are not creating any new rights, simply affirming rights that already exist, the liabilities already exist as well. The cost of a steady stream of class action lawsuits pulling from the jurisprudence that should be enough to get the province to the table.

For both of these reasons, we need our provincial government embracing the policy of recognition—at the table in government-to-government negotiations with Indigenous leaders, formulating agreements, and making them law.

There is just too much uncertainty caused by litigation, the status quo and the policy of denial.


It’s my pleasure and honour to rise and speak to Bill 25, the Haida Nation Recognition Amendment Act. This is another moment in the history of the province of British Columbia that I’m proud to stand here as a member of this Legislative Assembly. I bear witness to this moment and take my place in this debate, and I’m proud to stand with the government and celebrate this historic moment.

This is a point that I will make several times over the next 45 minutes or so, as I am the designated speaker for the Third Party. For the first time in British Columbia, the provincial government has advanced Aboriginal title through agreement and legislation, rather than through litigation. We have an opportunity to embrace recognition, and perhaps, that’s what the member who spoke before me is talking about.

Transformation in this province is representative of a government that is embracing recognition rather than a policy of denial, which has been the hallmark of this provincial government for more than a century.
Let’s acknowledge this moment in our history, this remarkable moment that a province with a deeply sordid history with Indigenous people again stands at the forefront of Indigenous-Crown relations in this country.

As we have already seen in this debate, the policy of denial is still a real part of the identity of British Columbia. It’s unfortunate that it appears we will stand divided on this approach, as some voices in this chamber grasp for what they feel is a winning political strategy by firmly anchoring us to a losing legal one. Even as they say one thing about truth, reconciliation, rights and title, their actions demonstrate a commitment to denial and delay.

I raise my hands to all the people behind the scenes: the ministry leaders and administrators, the legal and political policy analysts and advisers, the negotiators. I raise my hands to the powerful Indigenous leaders in the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, in the Premier’s office, the team and the Declaration Act secretariat, who have navigated this tricky and, often, treacherous terrain. It is your resolute strength, working in a sprawling institution whose culture has evolved over time, resisting this policy approach that has created an ecosystem in which the transformation my previous colleague was talking about is evidenced in this bill can thrive.

No matter the amount of political will that I’m about to elevate, this initiative does not happen without the leadership of all of you working in the government. This initiative doesn’t happen without the leadership of you all working in a good way, with your lived experience and your commitment to overcome a deeply embedded inertia on Aboriginal title and the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples on these lands.

When I look across the way, at the people in the executive council, who are the public and political face of this initiative…. The Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, the member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head, who, as a lawyer, has worked for decades in Indigenous and environmental law, and who has, no doubt, watched the case law emerge and solidify — indeed, likely experiencing a personal evolution in his own political and legal philosophy over the time. When I look over the previous work of this minister — work that sometimes I criticize, to this day here — I see evidence of the transformation that we’re talking about.

[3:20 p.m.]

As we stand at the precipice of this historic moment, however the political will was gathered and assembled, however life was breathed into the decision to agree and legislate rather than litigate, my hands are raised.

Also, the Premier, who, as a lawyer, has the depth, experience and history to understand the strength of the claim and defence, stated clearly the weak position British Columbia has on the lands of Haida Gwaii. The signals the Premier sent from the first day, where and how he was sworn in as Premier, the advice and legal theory he has surrounded himself with — there is an early indication of this approach. He followed those early signals with a fundamental shift in how we do business with respect to Aboriginal title in this province.

There is no doubt that I have many critiques of this Premier. I am disappointed in the arguments that have been made by our lawyers and courts. I am dismayed by the approach this government has taken with injunctions, allowing corporate profitability and reputation to go ahead of Aboriginal rights and title. I’m saddened by the process of the Land Act amendments, exposing them to the leveraging of desperate politicians. However, there is no doubt that this Premier empowered his minister and Executive Council. My hands are raised to them.

Resolute political will is a necessary ingredient in producing such a landmark action that we are talking about today. For the first time in the long and awful Crown-Indigenous history of this province, [an Indigenous language was spoken.] We have become grown up. Heeding the advice of the courts, advancing Aboriginal title through agreement and legislation, rather than litigation.

Yet what I hear from the opposition benches on both sides of me is the howling of fearmongers, the voices of denial. I heard the official opposition critic lead his colleagues into this debate. I could hear him and his reinforcements coming long before we saw those red coats. The pipes and drums echoed off the marble here, announcing their arrival.

The defence he deploys in this theatre, decades-old Supreme Court decisions and agreements from a generation, ago daylight the outdated strategy. The long jurisprudence evolving over nearly 75 years, and he and his colleagues arrive at this debate with muskets to deliver the first volley of lead shot: complaints that this assembly is moving too fast.

Is the Supreme Court moving too fast? Is the Supreme Court of British Columbia moving too fast? The 30-year negotiations of the B.C. Treaty Commission — is that moving too fast? So when is the right time, then?

The arsenal they draw from, arguing that the pace of reconciliation is too fast, encouraging the provincial government to tarry yet a little longer in the refuge offered by the policy of denial that grounds the political and legal theory that has been displayed here. From this perspective, there is no good time to advance a policy of recognition, or perhaps, if I were to cede any territory here, the good time for recognition is always later, long after we’re gone from this place and a new cohort of MLAs has inherited the mess created by our lack of courage.

From this perspective, there is no good time to negotiate agreements and move legislation. For nearly two hours, the member trawled the room, baiting the members of this government so that then he could raise his voice in righteous indignation and claim that this was silly season. As soon as the member heard a peep of a response, the slightest tug on the line, he springs into rhetorical action, trying to set the hook.

“Clearly, Chair,” he claims, “based on the bleating of the protests on the other side, this is no time to be creating agreements and passing legislation regarding this relationship between the province and the Haida that has been politically and legally evolving for decades.” Now we debate legislation that comes after that long process. The member and the leader published not one, but two joint statements calling for a pause to do more consultation.

[3:25 p.m.]

Is that what his B.C. Liberal colleagues did once the treaties were negotiated and were completed? Of course they didn’t. Did they create an opaque consultation process that the member is calling for here? No, of course they didn’t. Is the member calling for a consultation with British Columbians on whether we should reconsider the policy of denial? No, of course he isn’t.

Why is denial the default position? Because it’s cheap, easy and divisive politics. That’s why. Because it’s easier to punch down on vulnerable people than it is to elevate, educate and emancipate. The B.C. Liberals brought those agreements to this chamber in the form of legislation. They invited the Indigenous leaders onto the floor, and they celebrated their collective effort just as happened last week when we celebrated the government-to-government agreement with the Haida. In fact, those celebrations and those proceedings followed the B.C. Liberal template.

The official opposition is dedicated to making this season sillier than it needs to be. British Columbians should know we are about to see a show where member after member of the official opposition will stand in here and claim the pace of reconciliation is too blisteringly fast, calling for us to delay, distract and deny. However, that is far from what is in the best interests of British Columbians. The theatre, which would be far more entertaining if it were led by the star cast member from the Abbotsford players, is about the political ego of a political party that failed to identify the values that inform this political compass.

See, politics are easy, but governing is difficult. The official opposition’s willingness to sacrifice the best interests of British Columbians for their own benefit is sad and dangerous. It appears that they’ve calculated that they can exploit and leverage the low-information landscape. Our public education system has failed to teach British Columbians the legal and political truth of our tenuous situation. And the official opposition is prepared to exploit and leverage that for political gain. If any members will pause, I hope it’s the members of the official opposition before they lead us down a painful and expensive path.

The opposition critic can stand in this place and complain about how the government invited the Haida into our House to take care of business, just as always has been done in important Houses in this territory. And yet his party agreed to that ceremony happening at first reading. I personally heard the assurances myself. The official opposition supported the process that happened last Monday. For the record, Mr. Speaker hosted a meeting of all the House Leaders. All were represented at that meeting.

We discussed the plan in which the Government House Leader gave us notice. It was a clear plan for the proceedings. It was not a surprise, and there was plenty of time for all the political parties to deliberate internally on it. In fact, due to the confusion of previous legislative processes involving Indigenous leaders, which both I and the official opposition House Leader raised substantive concerns about, the Government House Leader suggested we should codify the process he presented for this and all future occasions where a treaty or an agreement involving title is being introduced.

All parties agreed that legislation involving Aboriginal title would be addressed as per the process set by the precedent of the former B.C. Liberal government when treaty legislation was introduced. The Government House Leader answered a few questions. His responses apparently satisfied those with concerns, and the process was agreed to. I will note here that there were assurances that there was agreement from all parties on the process.

So how does the official opposition critic stand in here and complain after the fact his colleagues were disrespected? How does he claim in good conscience that the government’s actions disrespected this House?

[3:30 p.m.]

Do the members of the official opposition even know that their party agreed to welcome guests into our home at first reading? Do they know that the government respectfully brought forward the process they would like to use to ensure the work was done in a good way? Do the members of the official opposition know that this was the agreement? Does the Leader of the Official Opposition know how his critic is making a very respectable member of their team look to the rest of us that were in that conversation?

I am only raising this because if the public and media only hear the side of the story that was shared earlier, they would be led to believe that the government was up to some kind of shenanigans. The member claimed the government acted disrespectfully, but British Columbians need to know the truth about how this happened and who is actually acting disingenuously in this.

[S. Chandra Herbert in the chair.]

Is this the kind of leadership that British Columbians can expect from the Leader of the Official Opposition, the leader of the B.C. United? He sends a messenger to confidently deliver one message privately — nothing to worry about. But then, when our guests arrive, he sits there in his seat like a cloaked bird of prey, while his critic stands up and starts the public process of kicking dirt at our respected guests while they’re in the room.

Do they even care how disrespectful this is? The poor form — that while our House is full of Haida dignitaries, here by the invitation of all the members of the Legislative Assembly…. That’s the embarrassment. That’s the message that is sent to all Indigenous leaders in our province about the kind of leadership at the tiller in the official opposition right now.

While the leader of the B.C. Conservatives had the sense to temper his desire to undermine and divide for at least the moments we had guests in our home, the same cannot be said for the demonstration of the official opposition. They call for delay. They claim there is a better time later, in the future, to deal with Aboriginal title, after some undefined consultation process. Yet they can’t keep their word, their assurances, on how they will handle the introduction of a bill at first reading.

On one hand, they outline decades of jurisprudence on Aboriginal title, and on the other hand, they pretend like Aboriginal title is new, like it’s the first time that we’ve been confronted by it. They know that we’ve been on a path to Aboriginal title since the first cases after the Indian Act was amended in the early 1950s, 70-plus years ago.

That time, those amendments allowed Indigenous people in Canada to fundraise and to hire lawyers, to seek legal advice to advance land claims. To think that the federal and provincial governments felt their position so tenuous that they would make a law that would restrict Indigenous people from having lawyers to defend themselves should be enough of an argument, laid out just in and of itself to stand on its own, to demonstrate that we are in no way moving too quickly on Aboriginal rights and title.

Prior to those early 1950s amendments, it was illegal for Indigenous people to hire lawyers to defend themselves. That’s part of our collective history. They and all our legislative predecessors did everything they could to ensure the path was long and the journey was fraught with lawyers, courts and great expense.
While some members of this House have removed the red coats, choosing to step out of the colonial sludge to embrace the new story to tell ourselves about who we are, for others, it remains a struggle.

Reconciliation is both a group and an individual project. Government has a responsibility to bring British Columbians along, to invest in ensuring that everyone who lives here has a truthful account as to how we arrived to this point today. Governments for decades have failed to do that. Other opposition parties — well, they’re choosing to prolong the pain.

[3:35 p.m.]

We as individuals have a responsibility to reconcile, while government carries the responsibility to reconcile in the best way we can on behalf of all British Columbians. That responsibility begins the first moment after our executive council is sworn in, and it is a responsibility they carry until the first moment of the swearing-in of a new executive council.

There has been a specious argument laid out here that because we are so close to the next election, the work of government should stop, that somehow their mandate ends before it ends. Did it start after it started? Do the members argue that the executive council is too new to make decisions? Of course they don’t. Does the member consider that this government is the most experienced in this matter? They’ve been involved in all of the discussions and negotiations as this issue has developed over the last four years.

Presumably, there is a belief that there is this sweet spot, 18 to 36 months, where it is okay for a government to make decisions. Outside of that, they are either too new or too close to the next election. It is absurd. But it’s this approach, it’s this mindset that is exactly, precisely how we got to this point today, where decades pass, and the people in this room adopt a policy of denial and then never move away from it. The status quo is too easy to maintain, especially if you benefit from it.

As a result, there have been decades of commitments from our executive and legislative branches to ensuring every inch of ground ceded to Indigenous people has to be fought for, standing with the Attorneys General at the ready, right on the other side, pushing back with the full force of government lawyers. And up until 70 years ago, Indigenous people weren’t allowed to have their lawyers on the other side.

While the executive and legislative branches of government have been laggards, the judicial branch has a different history. For at least the past 30 years, the Supreme Court of Canada has been encouraging the provincial government of British Columbia and others to stop the steady flow of court cases and the mounting legal bills, accept the futility of their policy, recognize Aboriginal rights and title and create an effective table for government-to-government dialogue and decision-making. They have urged us to create a negotiated approach, with the end point being agreement and perhaps legislation.

After many Supreme Court decisions like Delgamuukw and Haida and Tsilhqot’in, this provincial government decided to abandon denial and try another route: the policy of recognition. That’s what we see in front of us today. Recognition is unfamiliar for Canadians. There is more tied up in our culture and identity than we can imagine that makes it challenging for us to recognize Aboriginal title and the inherent rights of Indigenous people on these lands and territories.

On this point, I agree with the opposition critic that the public needs to be included in the government’s work. However, it should not be used as a way to effectively obstruct progress, as has been the experience of Indigenous people in this province for decades. We have been moving forward together since Idle No More in a more collective way than this country has ever experienced. As the truth of our history emerges, some eagerly, some indifferently and some reluctantly began that slow march of reconciliation.

This is why I devoted so much time in the beginning of these remarks to note my disappointment of the quality and content of the current and adjacent affairs to this bill. It’s why I’m offering as much resistance in the form of sharp critique of the destructive and divisive work of my colleagues on the opposition benches who seek to undo progress because they can dangerously leverage the majority of citizens against the minority.

After years of working together, the provincial government and Haida have come to an agreement, saving the Attorney General from having to mobilize a team of lawyers to lay out a divisive and, frankly, dehumanizing argument before a court makes a decision in which they are likely to decide against the province and once again reaffirm their past encouragement for the legislative and executive branches to get this business from out in front of the judicial branch.

[3:40 p.m.]

Why? It’s because in all those decisions, we’ve witnessed the province lose ground, case after case. Despite the misinformation being pushed by the populist leader here of the B.C. Conservatives, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People Act that he wants to repeal only affirms rights that already exist. It doesn’t create new rights. The Haida Nation Recognition Amendment Act doesn’t create new rights. There are no new liabilities being created. This agreement and legislation recognize rights and title that exist, making it a foundation for a discussion going forward.

However, a dangerous populist who cares little for the truth would have you believe that they can — and that it is good and right — repeal an act that affirms human rights. They would have you believe that forcing title recognition to come from litigation — like the arguments against Bill 25 — is a better and more certain route than agreement in legislation. They know they can exploit a deeply embedded Canadian cultural belief of mistrust and contempt — if not for Indigenous people, then for the situation of Indigenous people.

I’m calling it out here, because we, as a society and as individuals, can acknowledge that we all carry some of this shame with us. We all inherited just a little bit of it. Historically, it has been easier to ignore it and bury it under excuse and justification. However, by identifying the shame of how bad we have allowed it to get, we can seek to reconcile.

There is no need for ugly arguments from the Attorney General that force the Haida into court to defend their humanity. That is what is so disappointing by the way the opposition parties have approached this issue: without the courage to deal with this issue now, wanting to push the issue further into the future, like the legislators before them, knowing that Aboriginal title has always existed, as has the liability associated with decades of alienating Aboriginal title. This is not new.

However, the approach to address it like a mature institution at a table, government to government, in a multi-step process of recognition — that is new. What we have seen from the other opposition parties, what they will not directly address, is the reality that the Crown’s denial of Aboriginal rights and title has led to the uncertainty and the fears that they are stoking, weakening the investment climate, creating conflict, harm and intergenerational poverty for Indigenous peoples.

We have the leader of one of the parties saying, “Wait,” and the leader of the other party saying, “Tear it down.” Both are economically irresponsible, damaging the well-being of British Columbians by perpetuating economic and social uncertainty. I hear, from the one leader who sits right next to me, complaints that the Supreme Court of Canada made a mistake in the Tsilhqotʼin decision when it comes to the land occupied by infrastructure. “The courts got it wrong,” I heard.

Yet now there’s a position that almost assures us a constant and steady march to those wrong-headed courts. choosing uncertainty over a more responsible approach, government-to-government negotiations, agreements in legislation, where we can make sure we get the details and a flexible plan thoughtfully laid out.

It is increasingly uncertain — and the provincial record in front of the court is not improving for the province of British Columbia — but one thing is certain: the leaders of both of the other parties are more comfortable dividing British Columbians against Indigenous people, turning the majority against the minority, through fearmongering, rather than engage in the difficult work of facing down the legal reality that our legislative ancestors left us with.

[3:45 p.m.]

It’s important to acknowledge that litigation on Aboriginal title has been in front of the courts since the 1970s. Like I said earlier, the courts have implored us to sort it out, saying to “use legislation and agreements to do so.”

We hear the other opposition leaders talk about economic reconciliation. What we’re doing here today is effecting the advice of the Supreme Court of Canada, who last month said: “Make legislative reconciliation by braiding together both common law and Indigenous law with the Declaration Act as the guide.” How much longer do we talk and not act?

I saw a video from one of the leaders claiming that these agreements are a threat to private property rights. What he doesn’t address is the fact that the risk to private property owners is actually the status quo. The uncertainty exists because of the following: the Crown grants private property rights. The courts have found Aboriginal title to exist. The courts have also found that Crown title is burdened by Aboriginal title. As a result, Crown title, including the fee simple interest that derives from it, have an element of uncertainty until the issue of Aboriginal title is dealt with until true reconciliation takes place.

Did the leader of the B.C. Conservatives share that little bit of legal reality in his populist rhetoric? Of course he didn’t. Did he share with British Columbians that through the Haida agreement, as it’s laid out for private property owners on Haida Gwaii, that this uncertainty is removed? The Haida have now confirmed that they acknowledge and agree in accordance with their title and their laws that fee-simple interests exist as they always have.

The burden on the Crown title caused by Aboriginal title has been addressed on Haida Gwaii with this act. True reconciliation is taking place. The end result is that private property interests are secure, certain and clearer on Haida Gwaii than they have ever been since contact with the passing of this.

Folks, it’s the status quo that threatens the certainty that all British Columbians seek. Why are we not hearing that from the leader of the B.C. Conservatives? Why doesn’t he want certainty for Indigenous people and all private property owners in British Columbia? Well, I think it’s because Indigenous people are an easy target for his dangerous populism. And as we’ve seen time and again, they never hold back on punching down.

If the opposition leaders were more interested in a good-functioning British Columbia than their own desire to obtain the Premier’s seat, then they would be congratulating the fee simple landowners of Haida Gwaii. When this law passes, their fee simple tenures are on the strongest footing ever and anywhere in the province.

What they don’t want is to confront the Aboriginal title…. Sorry. What I’m not hearing from the opposition leaders is that Aboriginal title is being decided in British Columbia. Whether by the court or by agreement, Aboriginal title in B.C. is being decided. We have a choice between the uncertainty of litigation and decisions, court decisions, or the certainty of agreement and legislation.

In the same week as Bill 25 was introduced, the B.C. Supreme Court decided on an Aboriginal title case involving the Nuchatlaht, respecting about 11 square kilometres of Nootka Island. We need to be honest with British Columbians. Whether it’s by litigation or by legislation, both are setting precedents for British Columbia. Both come with a cost.

To lead people to believe otherwise is just disingenuous. To divide British Columbians is poor, and it’s bad leadership. We’ve seen the leaders claim to support Aboriginal title when facing First Nations leaders. Then they spread disinformation and unsubstantiated fear mongering in front of a different audience.

Aboriginal title exists. The liabilities that are the result of alienating Aboriginal people from the title to these territories exist. We cannot escape that.

[3:50 p.m.]

That’s what makes this type of politics so dangerous. We need to move past litigation and into agreement and legislation for all the reasons they claim to be concerned: certainty for private property owners, improving business investment, managing the massive liabilities this Crown government continues to carry as a result of the decisions and fears of former members of this Legislative Assembly to alienate Indigenous people from the title to their territories, and the health and well-being of Indigenous people and communities.

I’d like to provide some context for how this feels as a Haida person. As I’ve done in the first iteration of the Haida Nation Recognition Act, 2023, I’ll share some words from my colleague, Gud Takin Jaad, Rose Williams.

[An Indigenous language was spoken.] good people. I’m a proud member of the [An Indigenous language was spoken.], Eagle Clan, and a proud Haida citizen. I grew up on our homeland, Haida Gwaii. The English translation means “islands of the people.” The Haida Nation has been living with these lands and waters since time immemorial. Most recent archaeological evidence has shown we’ve occupied the archipelago for at least 15,000 years. It is remarkable.

The stories of those who have passed before us are shared throughout the nation, greeting the ears of our children before they become earthside. Our creation stories, Raven and the Clamshell, How Raven Stole the Sun, the Great Flood, they depict a time long ago. A time when our people first found their way to Haida Gwaii. A time when they began to shape communities, traditions, and systems of governance. These stories were, throughout recent history, dismissed as fiction. Yet, as more evidence comes to light, we see our stories as close descriptions of the true history of the lands.

We use our stories to pass on knowledge between generations and communities, to describe where we came from and to where we are going. The stories of [An Indigenous language was spoken.] are reminders of our values.

Practice gratitude. Do not be greedy and have respect for all living things. Our stories are a reminder of the values and laws that guide us as Haida people and the responsibilities we have as citizens of Haida Gwaii. We recognize that all these things are connected and that we need each other to survive. To move forward and together in this world we must practice yahguudang, respect for all living things.

For millennia, we’ve stewarded the lands and waters of Haida Gwaii. We owe our lives to Haida Gwaii. We have a responsibility to uphold the sacred relationship. Through reciprocity, gratitude and the fire burning in our hearts, we’ve maintained our role as stewards of these lands.”

The first paragraph of the Haida Nation constitution translated in X̱aayda Kil and X̱aad Kil reads as follows.

“The Haida Nation is the rightful heir to Haida Gwaii. Our culture is born of respect and intimacy with the land and sea and the air around us. Like the forests, the roots of our people are intertwined such that the greatest troubles cannot overcome us. We owe our existence to Haida Gwaii. The living generation accepts the responsibility to ensure that our heritage is passed on to following generations. On these islands, our ancestors lived and died, and here too, we will make our homes until called away to join them in the great beyond.”

The Council of the Haida Nation finds its roots in resistance to colonial occupation and extraction. It was established in 1974 with the recognition that we needed a governance body that represented the values and rights of Haida citizens. Last year, we celebrated the passage of a monumental piece of legislation, the Haida Nation Recognition Act. This legislation recognized the Council of the Haida Nation as the government of the Haida Nation.

[3:55 p.m.]

The Council of the Haida Nation was not created under the purview of a colonial authority by way of the Indian Act, but rather through the efforts of community.

It encapsulates the voices of elected officials, hereditary chiefs and Matriarchs. Their decision-making is guided by Haida law and values. The day that legislation passed third reading continues to fill my heart with joy and hope.

I, again, express my gratitude to the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands and the B.C. Green caucus for the opportunity to share my words in this space during debate of Bill 18 last year and, now, for Bill 25. I didn’t think I’d be witnessing such significant moments at this age, much less given the opportunity to have my words shared in this House.

As I shared during Bill 18 debate, we are reclaiming and revitalizing that which makes us Haida. Not long ago, our language, our culture, our connection to the land and our very existence were threatened. Our people have endured centuries of colonization, forced displacement and resettlement, disease, the stealing of our ancestors and our children — the attempted destruction of our culture. Yet we survived. A population of 30,000 was decimated by smallpox to a mere 600 Haida. Yet we survived. Guided by the voices of our ancestors and propelled by our responsibility to protect the lands, waters and all living things on Haida Gwaii, we have not only survived, but thrived.

I reflect, often, on our resilience and resistance which has carved the space for us to be here today. The standoff at Lyell Island has become famous around the world. Haida stood strong at the foot of old growth logging on Athlii Gwaii, standing up for Haida law and rights. My relatives were arrested at Athlii Gwaii, and more have been arrested at countless standoffs between extractive industries and protectors of the land.

We have a deep respect for the lands, waters and our neighbours. Everything depends on everything else. We must find a way to harmonize our ways of being with the future of abundance and yahguudang, respect for all living things.

In the early years of my undergrad, I wrote academic papers on the significance of the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples. I explained why provincial and federal governments should move to create legislation that would harmonize B.C. and Canadian laws with UNDRIP.

In 2022, wearing my raven’s tail headband, I sat in the B.C. Legislature and watched the B.C. cabinet introduce the DRIPA action plan. I was a legislative intern at the time. It was the first time while working in provincial politics where I felt true hope.

In 2023, I sat in the gallery again, wearing my raven’s tail headband, this time as a constituency assistant. I watched the passage of Bill 18, the Haida Nation Recognition Act, and was again filled with hope. To hear our songs in this place, it brought life to the cold marble. The pillars that are always stagnant, steeped in the past, seemed to reverberate with the drums and shift towards a brighter future.

And now, in 2024, we celebrated the introduction of this bill. Again, I sat in the gallery, this time as a policy analyst, wearing my raven’s tail headband and my button vest. I felt so much gratitude for my nation and the great work that has been done to get here. I celebrate the work of this province in recognizing the vital role we have in governance and stewardship. We will continue to uphold Haida law and fight to protect the lands and waters which make us Haida. This legislation is significant. We have fought for so long to exercise our sovereignty, our rights and our place on Haida Gwaii. It is an honour to witness this. Finally, Haida title.

Just as we have been inspired and encouraged by other nations in our fight for title, we hope we can inspire others to take these steps toward self-governance. We hope Crown governments of B.C. and Canada will continue to see the value and necessity of Indigenous law and governance. Our culture is the language.

It’s the land. It’s the water. It’s the people. And now, with our title finally recognized by the province — almost — we can proceed with harmonizing the laws of Haida Gwaii with our culture, values and teachings.

[4:00 p.m.]

We look forward to seeing the federal government participate in this agreement. We must all continue to unravel the colonial history and laws that have caused so much harm. We must work together to weave a sustainable and hopeful future based on yahguudang.

Those were the words of my colleague, Rose Williams, a member of the Haida Nation, who has worked in our offices, as she said, for the last few years and has brought such rich understanding of our relatives in Haida Gwaii.

I’ll just end with these remarks. I can understand the challenge that British Columbians have with reconciling these steps that government is making: the government-to-government negotiations that happen in this place on behalf of all British Columbians, that have always happened for all British Columbians. We will undertake a process in which the opposition parties will have plenty of time to go through it, to ask questions of the minister, to ask questions of the government as to what their intentions are, the process that is going to unfold.

Reconciliation is a journey that we walk together. We cannot see the end of the trail that we walk on together. It’s one that we will walk together for a very long time. We, as a government, have a responsibility to take care of the business that our legislative ancestors have been running away from.

And no matter what the Premier says about this being a template for other First Nations or other nations across the province, he might be commenting on the fact that this might be a template for the government to follow, the reality is that we’ve got many diverse nations across the province who are going to want their rights and title to be expressed in their own unique ways.

So to suggest that any of these processes will happen exactly as the last one did…. They might be informed that way, but it is important to recognize that the government has a big job in engaging First Nations across the province and their unique cultures. As we see this process unfold, and as other nations in the province experience the next months and years ahead, that will inform how other agreements are signed.

It is time for us to celebrate, in this province, a policy of recognition. It is time for us, in this province, to abandon a policy of denial. It has led us to exactly the position that we stand at today: deeply impoverished First Nations who may be supported and helped with economic reconciliation, but who deserve legislative reconciliation as well, who deserve government-to-government relationships, agreements and the promise of self-determination. It should be there, but we recognized that when we pass the Declaration Act.

With this, I am grateful for the positive steps that we are taking forward together. I look forward to the remaining stages of the debate on this bill. I will be there as the discussion unfolds. I appreciate the opportunity in this House to speak a few words on this important occasion.

With that I say, HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.


  1. JoAnne Jarvis

    Thank you Adam for clarifying this process .
    When we are ignorant, we are easily manipulated and the as you have stated our ignorance is used against us and to the detriment of long awaited justice.
    The status quo must go.

    Only one little comment.
    You used the word ecosystem.
    Are we now going to use the word “ecosystem “ for everything?
    It is becoming meaningless as the corporations are using it to describe their destructive operations as ecosystems.

    Thank you so much for hanging in there all these years and I hope you will be doing so for many more, with much more support in “that” place.

  2. Conrad van der Kamp

    Thank you for an eloquent and informed defense of Bill 25. The way forward has its own jurisdictional uncertainties as yet, but the honour of the Crown is at stake here, and something rich and diverse will result.

    Between the Tsilhqot’in and Haida Gwaii decisions, and of course the Nisga’a and other treaty settlements, our governments are setting the pattern for our future together.


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