British Columbia is hoping to become the first province to pass legislation to legally implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The legislation was introduced on Thursday and is expected to pass.
The legislation sets a framework to align provincial laws with the standards of the UN declaration. The legislation requires that Indigenous peoples are included in all decision-making that impacts their rights.
“It is a commitment to respect, promote and advance the rights of Indigenous people,” B.C. Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser said.
“Through this legislation we are respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples through laws.”
Indigenous leaders from across British Columbia were in the Legislative chamber to mark the introduction of the bill.
The legislation, which will apply to all existing and yet to be introduced legislation, was developed in collaboration with the First Nations Leadership Council at the direction of First Nations, this legislation creates a framework for reconciliation in B.C., in keeping with the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The legislation puts together a plan on how to meet the declaration’s objectives and work with First Nations to hit these goals.
John Horgan committed to UNDRIP legislation in 2016, before he became premier. The NDP government has been focused on reconciliation and building trust with First Nations committees in the province.
Holding back tears, Horgan spoke Thursday of the importance of B.C. becoming the first province to “bring the UN Declaration into law.”
“We all want to live in a province where the standard of living for Indigenous people is the same as every other community in the province,” he said. “We all want to live in a province where no Indigenous children are in the care of government. We want to live in a province where there are record numbers of Indigenous students graduating from high school.
“This legislation is a real catalyst for change.”
Similar legislation was introduced on the federal level but was not passed before the recent election.
One of the controversial parts of UNDRIP is requiring all projects touching on traditional or current Indigenous territories must receive consent from those communities. Opponents of the UN Declaration have declared the clause a veto, allowing unelected First Nations leaders, in some cases, to derail massive resource or infrastructure projects.
Horgan has said repeatedly that this is not a veto, rather an important tool to require conversations and consultations with Indigenous communities.
“First Nations across B.C., Canada and the world are watching the introduction of this historic legislation. We are showing how the maturity and wisdom of our current leadership in this province, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, can be a beacon for hope during these uncertain times,” BC Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee said.
“Businesses and investors will benefit from this as it creates certainty and predictability for projects in this province – British Columbians will benefit from job creation and First Nations will benefit by having a seat at the table.”
The BC Green caucus is in full support of the legislation, calling it a “historic moment.”
“Reconciliation is the right thing not only for respecting basic human rights; it provides a path forward for British Columbia in a way that brings economic opportunity to all of its citizens,” B.C. Green MLA Adam Olsen said.
“By recognizing UNDRIP as part of B.C.’s legal framework it signals that Indigenous people in this province are partners in working together.”