British Columbia

Child welfare, environment among top election issues for B.C. First Nations

The president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs says First Nations need to hit the polls in order to ensure their needs are met following the provincial election.

Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs calls on First Nations to hit the polls

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, speaks as B.C. First Nations Leaders come together to voice their rejections for the Petronas Pacific Northwest LNG project during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 19, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

B.C.'s election hopefuls need to be mindful of the First Nations vote, according to the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

While many Indigenous communities face their own unique challenges this election season, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says environmental policies will be at the top of the list for many First Nations. He says many Indigenous communities are especially critical of the Clark government.

"The environmental regulatory oversight under the B.C. Liberals is absolutely appalling," he told host Chris Walker on CBC's Daybreak Daybreak South.

Phillip points to the growing dissent many First Nations feel towards big energy projects supported by the current B.C. Liberals, such as the Site C dam and the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project.

He says it's hard for many Indigenous communities to maintain confidence in the environmental stability of these projects considering several mishaps that have occurred under the current Liberal government, including the 2014 collapse of the Mount Polley tailings dam in central B.C. and the more recent diesel fuel spill near Bella Bella.

"There's a real need to overhaul environmental oversight [and] to reform mining," he said.

2017 platforms

B.C.'s major political parties have made commitments to First Nations.

John Horgan and the B.C. NDP have yet to release their official platform; however, the group has committed to ending the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project — an energy project that's met growing opposition from First Nations.

Meanwhile, the B.C. Liberals platform has been released. The party has committed to furthering reconciliation and economic opportunities for Indigenous communities should they be re-elected.

Their 2017 platform also promises to increase Indigenous participation in the forest sector, enhance educational opportunities for Indigenous youth, and help develop the tourism industry to assist Aboriginal communities.

The Liberals also promise to increase the number of First Nations staff in the Ministry of Children & Families (MCFD).

Child welfare

According to Judy Wilson, the Chief of the Neskonlith Indian Band, changes to the MCFD are urgently needed as well.

"There's still disproportionate numbers of Aboriginal children in care," Wilson said.

Wilson's calls come after a recent report from the B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth found that federal funding models for Indigenous youth services across the province make it more likely for Indigenous children to end up in foster care.

Specifically, the report found that delegated Aboriginal agencies that provide services to Indigenous communities on behalf of the MCFD are chronically understaffed and underfunded.

Wilson says the model for agencies delegated to help Indigenous families isn't working. She's calling on greater support from the elected provincial government, and hopes voters will consider the need when they enter the booth.

With files from CBC's Daybreak South