British Columbia

Urban voice needed in talks on UN Indigenous rights, says leader

Nearly 80 per cent of Indigenous people now live in urban settings, but without an urban Indigenous advocacy body, it’s unclear how UNDRIP will impact what is the majority of the Indigenous population.

B.C. is consulting First Nations about its UNDRIP commitments, but city dwellers are mostly left out, he says

Robert Phillips, centre, says there hasn't been an organization representing urban Indigenous people since the closure of the former United Native Nations in 2013. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

Urban Indigenous people should have a voice in the UNDRIP consultations between the provincial government, but there are no organizations to turn to, says Robert Phillips of the First Nations Summit.

Last winter, B.C. became the first jurisdiction in Canada to pass a law requiring the provincial government to align its policies and laws with the UN Declaration of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). 

The provincial government is consulting with on-reserve Indigenous groups about the implementation of UNDRIP, but nearly 80 per cent of Indigenous people now in urban settings.

More than 60,000 Indigenous people live in Metro Vancouver. And according to Statistics Canada, Vancouver has the third-largest urban Indigenous population after Winnipeg and Edmonton respectively.

Without an urban Indigenous advocacy body, it's unclear how UNDRIP will impact this group.

"It is a gap because a lot of our people do live in urban settings and those issues are coming up more," said Phillips, a political executive member of the First Nations Summit.

"So we do need to have that voice there and we do need to have people involved."

New group needed

The province has consulted with the B.C. Leadership Council, which is comprised of the First Nations Summit, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and B.C. Assembly of First Nations.

But the on-reserve groups don't reflect urban interests, and that has to change, Phillips said.

"Everything that our people live and go through in urban settings, that's totally different than what's happening on reserve," he said. 

There hasn't been an urban Indigenous political advocacy group since the demise of the former United Native Nations in 2013, Phillips says. But UNDRIP applies to Indigenous people on and off reserve, and consultations are an opportunity to bridge the gap between the two, he added.

Scott Clark, president of the Northwest Indigenous Council, says the acknowledgement of urban Indigenous issues "is real and long overdue." 

"The First Nations Summit understands our work, but we all need to work together to align our understanding and commitment," Clark said.

His organization has already started hosting urban forums on Vancouver Island about how UNDRIP impacts urban Indigenous people. Their first forum in Nanaimo drew more than 100 people, Clark said.

"Indigenous people there had a real desire to be organized."

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation noted in an email that the province is working with Indigenous groups to develop an UNDRIP action plan, including those in urban communities. Organizations slated to be consulted include Métis Nation B.C., B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres and the Urban Native Youth Association.


Wawmeesh Hamilton

Indigenous Affairs Reporter

Wawmeesh Hamilton is an award winning Indigenous affairs reporter with CBC Vancouver. He reports on Indigenous people, communities and issues in B.C. and across Canada. His work about Indigenous people and reconciliation has also been published on CBC the National, CBC Radio, CBC Online and CBC Indigenous. His radio documentary Not Alone (CBC The Current) won the 2020 Jack Webster Award for best feature and enterprise reporting. Wawmeesh is a graduate of the UBC Graduate School of Journalism (2016). He lives in Vancouver and is a member of the Hupacasath First Nation in Port Alberni, B.C.