Some Indigenous leaders are expecting sweeping change with the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in British Columbia.
For Squiala Chief Dave Jimmie, president of the Sto:lo Nation Chiefs’ Council, the forthcoming changes will be “monumental” in scope.
B.C. became the first jurisdiction in North America to adopt the rights-based declaration on Oct. 24, 2019.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s finally becoming part of the decision-making process, as opposed to being dictated to,” Chief Jimmie said. “This is just the beginning. It’s a stepping stone.”
When the Indian Act was created, he noted, or the residential school system, Indigenous people were not consulted nor were they part of the decision-making process.
Some commenters have said the UNDRIP test of “prior, free and informed consent” when applied to land development for example is akin to a veto by First Nations for major projects, and that has been a source of fear in the debate. But it’s more generally about Indigenous reps “getting a seat at the table” whenever meaningful decisions are made, Jimmie said.
Grand Chief Doug Kelly, chair of the First Nations Health Council, called the adoption of the UNDRIP legislation “huge” in terms of its implications.
“This is a call to action. It’s even bigger than the creation of the treaty process, because it is going to change the world we live in,” Kelly said. “What it will require however is for First Nations leaders and citizens to work together like never before, and it also requires the provincial government to change.”
Nonetheless there is “exciting” work ahead.
“I can see opportunities in what are sometimes referred to as ‘dirt’ ministries, like energy, mining and forests, with joint ventures and other economic development opportunities,” Kelly said.
Since his work of late is in the field of health and social services, Kelly said his analysis and focus is on Ministry for Children and Family Development and how the structure might change with UNDRIP.
“It’s the accountability that will shift,” Kelly said, predicting it will go from a provincial child welfare system with unilateral decision-making at the top, to one that’s more accountable to the Indigenous communities they serve. Sto:lo leaders have been doing the work to restore the role of “community matriarchs” and eventually they should become the delegated decision-makers in child welfare cases.
“I think that’s something that is both pragmatic and achievable,” Kelly said.
For Louis De Jaeger, president of the Chilliwack Métis Association, the provincial government decision to adopt UNDRIP is most welcome.
“The declaration is a mechanism for recognizing the right to self-determination of Indigenous peoples,” De Jaeger said. “It confirms our nation-to-nation relationship, recognition of our laws and legal traditions, and acknowledges the relationship that we have with our lands, waters and territories.”
B.C.’s UNDRIP framework bill received support from the NDP, as well as the B.C. Liberals and B.C. Greens, and doing so had been agreed to by the B.C. NDP and Green parties in their minority government support deal of 2017.