‘Reconciliation is not just words’: B.C. Premier Horgan speaks to the Assembly of First Nations

Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde speaks with B.C. Premier John Horgan after he was presented with a blanket during a ceremony at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

A week after British Columbia became the first jurisdiction in class to pass legislation to recognize the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), Premier John Horgan spoke to the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) special assembly in Ottawa.

Describing the passage of the legislation as one of the “proudest moments of my life,” Horgan spoke about the important of the legislation is creating reconciliation with Indigenous people across Canada.

READ MORE: British Columbia becomes 1st Canadian province to pass UN Indigenous rights declaration

“We are using the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to guide us to ensure that reconciliation is lasting,” Horgan said.

“Reconciliation is not just words, reconciliation is action.”

Similar legislation was introduced in the House of Commons in 2016 but didn’t pass.

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Horgan says he has been in touch with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the steps B.C. has taken.

“He congratulated B.C. for taking the step forward with the rights of Indigenous peoples and he committed to make sure that the federal government followed suit,” Horgan said.

“And I know that everyone in this room is going to hold him accountable for that, as will I.”

READ MORE: Why a UN declaration on Indigenous rights has struggled to become Canadian law

In introducing Horgan, National Chief Perry Bellegarde said the B.C. premier was the first sitting premier to speak to the special assembly.

Following the speech Horgan was wrapped in a star blanket from the Dakota people to represent love and the feeling of being forever wrapped by family.

He was also given a container of water from the Ottawa River to be blended with water from B.C. when he returns home. Bellegarde described water as representing life, healing and ceremony.

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“This is for premier Horgan for everything he has done. His leadership, how he speaks about free, prior and informed consent,” Bellegarde said.

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“That the sky isn’t falling, it means our people will involved every step of the way. It creates economic certainty, not economic uncertainty.”

Critics of the UNDRIP legislation have said it gives First Nations communities the right to veto development projects they do not like.

The B.C. government has argued the legislation does not allow projects to be blocked, it facilitates a discussion with First Nations communities to ensure the projects are done with their consent.

“We’ll create new opportunities for Indigenous peoples to be full partners in the B.C. economy, to build strong environmental protections, to move the province away from conflict and court battles and into a new era of rights, recognition, and cooperation,” Horgan said.

“Clear, predictable, paths forward for Indigenous communities, for business, and for industry. Free prior and informed consent is not the end of the world,” he added.

“Free prior and informed consent is what everyone would expect of their neighbour and what we expect from those who want to do business in B.C.”

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