November 26, 2019 was the historic day when British Columbia (BC) adopted provincial legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (previously known as Bill 41) was co-developed with Indigenous peoples in BC through the First Nations Leadership Council.
Like Bill C-262, federal legislation that was killed in the Senate in June 2019, Bill 41 would align government laws with the UN Declaration, which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded was the framework for reconciliation.
Unlike Bill C-262, Bill 41 was unanimously adopted. This is an important step for BC, where Indigenous peoples’ human rights have long been denied, particularly in the development of resource-based extraction projects like pipelines, dams, and mines.
The Act provides the opportunity for open and transparent collaboration between Indigenous peoples and the provincial government on how free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) and other standards in the UN Declaration can be implemented in a consistent and just manner. The Act requires the province to collaborate with Indigenous peoples to develop an action plan to implement the Declaration and also calls for annual public reporting to monitor progress.
The Act also provides recognition for the diverse forms of Indigenous governments in agreement-making processes, such as multiple Nations working together as a collective, or hereditary governments. The absence of such recognition has been a longstanding barrier to reconciliation in BC. This legislation can potentially assist in addressing land rights cases, such as the current conflict between the Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chiefs and Coastal GasLink, and create positive changes in how such cases are handled. (See CFSC’s letter in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en at https://quakerservice.ca/Wetsuweten). With the legal recognition of traditional governance models, the province can now work cooperatively with the hereditary leaders to address their concerns. The rights affirmed in the Declaration should inform state and corporate obligations so that such conflicts are addressed in a peaceful and rights-based manner. If the Declaration is being truly respected, such situations should be addressed before escalating to the point of tense conflict.
In the joint press release celebrating the passing of the Act, the BC government and the First Nations Leadership Council stated, “It is time we recognize and safeguard Indigenous peoples’ human rights, so that we may finally move away from conflict, drawn-out court cases and uncertainty, and move forward with collaboration and respect.” The BC government also asked for a quote for the press release from CFSC’s Indigenous Rights program coordinator Jennifer Preston, in recognition of her expertise and efforts toward implementation of the Declaration. Jennifer said, “Creating a legislative framework in BC for the implementation of the UN Declaration is vitally important for achieving reconciliation and safeguarding human rights. Supporting this effort is critical to ensuring Indigenous peoples’ rights are respected, as we move away from the legacy of colonization into a new reality.”
Quakers across BC expressed their hopes for this new legislation. Lower mainland Friend and CFSC member Barb Everdene stated that “With this Bill in place, BC has laid the foundation for building a real reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”
Cowichan Valley Friend and CFSC Clerk Lana Robinson stated, “This is such great news, and there are any number of current situations that testify to the necessity of this legislation being fully enacted with integrity and transparency. My hope is that the legislation will serve to bring together Indigenous peoples and settlers in new and innovative ways that will transform society as a whole, and create the conditions for social, environmental, and economic justice in this province.”
Vancouver Friend and CFSC associate member Rob Hughes stated, “This legislation is the fulfillment of one of the key calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is important that all levels of government commit to implementing the Declaration. Other provinces and territories need to step up to the plate and follow BC’s example. I hope our government acts in good faith and adheres to the minimum standards for free, prior, and informed consent. This includes respect for traditional forms of leadership set out in the Declaration to resolve conflicts with Indigenous peoples about natural resources.”
Not only is this a major victory for BC, but it will also have positive repercussions for successfully passing federal legislation in Canada as quickly as possible. BC has set an excellent example that Canadians expect across the country.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised federal legislation in his speech from the throne, and has included it in his mandates to both the Minister of Justice and Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations (see: https://pm.gc.ca/en/mandate-letters).
The work to develop this legislation has already begun. Canadian Friends Service Committee is involved with many Indigenous partners in the beginning stages of this new federal legislation, which uses Bill C-262 as a minimum standard. It is our hope that this legislation will be adopted as quickly as possible in the life of the current parliament. Keep an eye on our social media and E-news in the coming months for more information on the progression of this legislation and what you can do to help.
Adopting the Declaration Act in BC is an important milestone, and CFSC recognizes that this legislative framework is one of many steps to meaningful and enduring reconciliation, as called for by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
To read the legislation in full, see: https://bit.ly/2TbDzLw
For more resources from BC, see: https://declaration.gov.bc.ca
To learn more about the UN Declaration, visit our website: https://quakerservice.ca/UNDeclaration
Rachel Singleton-Polster, Cowichan Valley Meeting, is the Clerk of CFSC’s Indigenous Rights program and Keira Mann is CFSC’s Assistant Coordinator, Programs and Events