British Columbia leads country in advancing Indigenous rights

It's been a year of interesting developments from a First Nations perspective, with issues catching the headlines including the struggles of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline project.

First Nations have had mixed results in the courts. In the Trans Mountain case, the federal government must redo its consultation with First Nations because the Supreme Court of Canada quashed federal environmental approval of the project. On the other hand, BC Hydro and the B.C. government have prevailed against court challenges to the Site C hydroelectric dam project.

Nationally, the federal government is attempting to entrench some progress prior to the next election through its approach to Indigenous rights recognition legislation and how it adopts principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Also, legislation has been announced that will give control of child welfare to Indigenous governments. Unfortunately, there is First Nations resistance to both initiatives, which may prevent the legislation from passing before the federal elections. Also noteworthy was the re-election of Perry Bellegarde as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. He is viewed as a moderate and is also keen to see some improvements on Indigenous matters entrenched in legislation before the next federal election.

On the provincial side, the BC NDP government seems to be hitting its stride. A recent meeting between cabinet ministers and First Nation chiefs produced some commitments to the sharing of gaming revenue and the co-development of legislation to implement the UN Indigenous rights declaration. This has built on child welfare legislative reforms and increased investments in Indigenous languages and housing.

While there is much skepti-cism about the pace of change on these issues, I can’t help but feel there is an air of momentum as we close this year, particularly in B.C. The LNG Canada project and pipeline reached a final investment decision with a high degree of support by First Nations along the pipeline. This project has been described as the biggest private capital investment in the history of Canada.

While there is a high degree of support from First Nations, there is also opposition from some hereditary leaders, so it will be interesting to follow the progress of this project. The Squamish Nation also approved its impact benefit agreement for the Woodfibre LNG project.

I am encouraged by the number of businesses wanting to advance reconciliation, through internal education and external activities, and by following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s recommendations. One thing is certain – B.C. continues to lead the country in the advancement of Indigenous rights. Although there will be setbacks and it will take time to see some of these changes on the ground, I am optimistic that we will see more significant progress in B.C. for First Nation communities. It’s about time.

Kim Baird is the owner of Kim Baird Strategic Consulting.