Op-Ed: Declaration Act a long overdue reset

Originally published in the Times Colonist on November 22, 2019

Re: “Indigenous Peoples bill has good goals but overpromises,” editorial, Nov. 3.

I confess I was gobsmacked — and not in a good way — to read the unsigned editorial in the Times Colonist claiming that “the unifying authority of government has been fragmented by the province’s new Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.”

What piffle!

I support the Declaration Act, and the recognition of Indigenous rights. Indigenous nations hold title to most of the so-called Crown land in this province. And Indigenous people have basic rights to life, liberty, equality and self-determination, recognized all over the world.

The status quo is how we got into the mess we’re in now. B.C.’s Declaration Act is a long-overdue reset in the relationship between B.C. and the nations that were here before the province was founded.

If we’re going to solve the problems created by an extractive, colonial mindset, we need strong Indigenous leadership. Two of the biggest challenges we face today in this province — housing and climate — are symptoms of an economic system totally divorced from the needs of local people.

Indigenous nations have already begun to put forward bold solutions to these problems. The Squamish Nation’s project in Kitsilano would add 6,000 rental homes to a city that desperately needs more affordable, low-carbon housing.

The Tsilhqot’in Nation last month opened B.C.’s largest solar farm near Williams Lake. All over the province, Indigenous communities are ready to build an economy that is more just, sustainable, and resilient — that will work better for all British Columbians.

Greater self-determination for Indigenous nations will benefit all of B.C. We need to work together, not fall into the trap of us versus them.

Katherine Maas

Want to show your support for B.C.’s Declaration Act? Send a letter to your local newspaper.

4 Responses to “Op-Ed: Declaration Act a long overdue reset”

  1. V. Askew says:

    Very well stated.

  2. Ruth Campbell says:

    The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), Article 10, reads: “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous peoples concerned . . . .” From what I’ve read about the new Declaration Act, the BC government does not interpret Article 10 of UNDRIP with the common-sense understanding of “consent.” Specifically, the withholding of consent by Indigenous peoples is not a veto in the eyes of the Province. Instead, “free, prior and informed consent” means only that the government and Indigenous peoples are to work together to “build a consensus” or “make an effort” to achieve acceptable arrangements. What if they can’t reach a consensus or achieve acceptable arrangements? We only have to look to the government’s treatment of the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations, who are witnessing the destruction of their lands by the Site C dam, or to the Indigenous people in the north who have been arrested by the RCMP for trying to protect their territory against the LNG pipeline. Essentially, the Province will proceed with whatever development it wants on Indigenous land, regardless of the upheaval and displacement it causes for first Nations.
    I hope there are things worth celebrating in this legislation, but it doesn’t implement UNDRIP in the manner intended by the United Nations.

  3. Laurie Embree says:

    Ruth Campbell tells it like it is in her reply here. Just making a “declaration act” and then sending RCMP swat teams to bully our way through to doing whatever we want, is not even close to UNDRIP!

  4. Michael Obrecht says:

    Good op ed, and comments so far. I agree with Ruth Campbell that a First Nation’s “No” means “No”. It does not mean, “Gosh, I really don’t want to do it, but let’s keep talking until you take what you want from me by force.”

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