Although 2020 has been a disruptive year due to Covid-19 and has negatively impacted many aspects of our lives, I believe we are finally seeing some substantive progress on Indigenous matters.
The BC Assembly of First Nations just re-elected incumbent Regional Chief Terry Teegee. Hopefully, this continuity will contribute to progress on reconciliation issues in B.C.
The recent BC NDP election victory establishes a majority government that will provide some continuity and bodes well for reconciliation efforts. Murray Rankin was sworn in as the new B.C. Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation on the one-year anniversary of the passage of B.C.’s law intended to align the province with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).
Federally, Bill C-15, aimed at bringing Canadian law into alignment with UNDRIP, was tabled in early December. It commits to establishing a three-year timetable to address the legal reforms that are required to comply with UNDRIP. Indigenous leaders are cautiously optimistic, but warn of the need of continued participation and an increased sense of urgency to pass and implement the law.
Under both the federal and provincial legislation, industry and governments will have to comply with a minimum standard of respecting Indigenous rights. And governments expect the massive undertaking of making sure their laws comply with UNDRIP will take years. Many First Nations, and companies impacting First Nations rights, have already been respecting UNDRIP standards. People should not fear upholding human rights. The sky will not fall. This law enables the longer-term work on reconciliation, which needs to happen.
In the meantime, focus on a post-pandemic recovery will preoccupy many policy makers for the foreseeable future. Indigenous participation in the economic recovery can’t be just an afterthought. From planning, to focusing on Indigenous infrastructure gaps, to Indigenous partnerships and participation in major projects affecting First Nations, there are no more excuses for excluding Indigenous participation in a way that respects Indigenous jurisdiction and lifts Indigenous quality-of-life standards. And Indigenous people must help shape this future and benefit from economic participation and environmental oversight to ensure the impact on their rights is minimized.
We must go beyond economic recovery and create a better future where everyone benefits. Governments have the best role for increasing the tools we will need to create this future. But everyone has a role to play.
I’m heartened by the number of departments, businesses and organizations that are making reconciliation a part of their business strategies and rising to the opportunity of contributing to reconciliation efforts. This dark year is ending with a much brighter vision of our future – but we must all do our part. •
Kim Baird is the owner of Kim Baird Strategic Consulting and a former Tsawwassen First Nation chief.