British Columbia

It's time for the B.C. NDP to get serious about UNDRIP, Indigenous leaders say

The province, under John Horgan, passed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act a year ago. Some First Nations leaders say they are still waiting for an action plan.

Province passed declaration act a year ago, but First Nations leaders say they've still to see an action plan

Bob Chamberlin, left, chair of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, and Judith Sayers, right, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, say they will be watching closely what progress the B.C. NDP makes on the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. (The Canadian Press/CBC News)

First Nations leaders on Vancouver Island are hoping the B.C NDP will use its majority election win to live up to a major promise the party made them last year on Indigenous rights.

Last November, under Premier John Horgan, B.C. became the first government in North America to pass legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission describes as the "framework for reconciliation."

The 46 articles of UNDRIP affirm the rights of Indigenous people to live in dignity, maintain their culture and participate in government decision-making, among other things. 

The legislation promised an action plan to ensure the government follows through on its commitment — but not only is that plan late, it is also being made without the input of critical voices, according to Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council President Judith Sayers.

"It concerns me that, almost a year later, we haven't got an action plan in place — even one or two priorities," Sayers told CBC's On The Island on Monday. 

Sayers said not only would she like to see a plan as soon as possible, she said she also wants the incoming government to work with more than First Nations Health Authority and the B.C. First Nations Leadership Council while drafting that plan.

"[Horgan] needs to work with the communities, he needs to work with the people," said Sayers.

First Nations Leadership Council representatives hold up printed copies of the UNDRIP bill tabled in Victoria. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC )

The B.C. NDP's campaign platform promised to increase First Nations involvement in key decisions on "land and resource use allocation," and establish an office to ensure new legislation and policies align with UNDRIP.

Litmus tests for Indigenous issues

Bob Chamberlin, chair of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance and a former federal NDP candidate for Nanaimo, said he has already seen more commitment from Horgan's team on Indigenous issues than when the B.C. Liberal's held power for 16 years until 2017.

But he said the provincial government's actions on UNDRIP will be the litmus test of how well the party is doing on issues of Indigenous importance.

"I see now, the NDP have come forward with platform pieces that are going to be able to set the table to advance reconciliation with First Nations," said Chamberlin, also speaking to On The Island.

Sayers has a few other litmus tests, including climate change, consultation on oil and gas projects, the future of the Site C dam project, and engagement on COVID-19 concerns with Indigenous leaders.

An aerial photo of construction on the Site C dam project. (BC Hydro/Contributed )

She also said during this past legislative session, the government tried to amend the Clean Energy Act (Bill 17) and the Mental Health Act (Bill 22) without adequate consultation with Indigenous people.

"He just went ahead and ignored us," said Sayers about Horgan.

Consent-based decision-making

Chamberlin said one example of successful consultation the B.C. NDP did engage in so far were government-to-government talks between the province and the 'Namgis, Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwa'mis and Mamalilikulla First Nations over the future of salmon farming in the Broughton Archipelago.

Namgis First Nation Chief Don Svanvik told CBC in 2019 the program was a monumental step toward protecting wild salmon and recognizing the interests, values and jurisdictional rights of Indigenous peoples.

Chamberlin, a former vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said this consent-based decision-making model is one he would like to see the next provincial government expand on this model, to "recognize and embrace the authorities inherent to First Nations.

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan at campaign headquarters in Vancouver on Oct. 24, after his party was projected to form a majority government. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The NDP will form a majority government in British Columbia for the first time in more than 20 years after the Oct. 24 election.

Horgan will have to name a new minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, as previous minister Scott Fraser has retired from provincial politics.

Tap here to hear Judith Sayers and Bob Chamberlin's Oct. 26 interview on On The Island.

With files from On The Island