Hot Take: B.C. is Dripping Drama — how to make a mess of implementing DRIPA

Hey B.C.? Get your sh*t together please and thank you. You’re acting like a gaslighting boyfriend who promised me a romantic birthday dinner and then expected me to cook.

As we know, back in 2019, B.C. passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA). Then, in 2022 the province released the first action plan which included “ensuring legislation is consistent with UNDRIP and developed in consultation and collaboration with Indigenous peoples. ” Also promised?  “Negotiating joint decision-making and consent agreements under s. 7 of DRIPA”.

You might be asking, “Okay Leslie Anne, why the history lesson?” Because it seems that B.C. politicians have forgotten their history (or, more likely, , don’t care about it) and that lawyers and stakeholders forgot to check their work. 

Once the province introduced these amendments to the Lands Act, which were designed to bring the Act in line with DRIPA, rumors and misinformation quickly began to spread. There were fear-mongering claims that Indigenous people were being given a right to decide what would happen on private land, and that they would have (gasp!) a veto over projects. Some of these claims spread from, what I hope were well-meaning, individuals who were reviewing the amendments seemingly without considering the context of DRIPA. Or, perhaps they were looking at the action plan, and misinterpreted potential  impacts. But it’s clear that others deliberately went to extremes to sow division for their own political gain. These individuals are knowingly creating a racist backlash for Indigenous people.

Take this example,  from a Global News article, where a B.C United Party MLAtakes credit for pushing B.C. to stall on their promises to implement Land Act changes, and hints at the “secret plans” the NDP have to advance Indigenous rights (we wish): 

“Kelowna-Mission MLA Norm Letnick said the NDP’s ‘pause’ can be directly attributed to concerned stakeholders, the people of B.C. and proactive efforts from the BC United Party.

“However, let’s not be naïve,” Letnick told Global News. “The announcement does not mark the end of the NDP’s hidden agenda. In their own words, they plan to resume these changes at the next opportunity.””

Except, it’s hard to swallow the idea of a hidden agenda when these changes have received as much publicity as the introduction of DRIPA — or the following action plan — have. If making public announcements, generating media hype, and posting reams of online information are  what constitutes a hidden agenda these days: I should be an international spy for the secrets I can keep.

But First Nations are not letting B.C. walk the implementation of DRIPA back without serving up a healthy dose of shame. West Moberly First Nation put out a press release last week, making it very clear how they feel about the decision. 

As the press release says:

In 2019, MLAs of every party in the provincial legislature unanimously passed the  Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (Declaration Act). The Declaration  Act affirms the application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous  Peoples (UNDRIP) to the laws of British Columbia. Central to UNDRIP and reconciliation  is the recognition that Indigenous Peoples must have the right to participate in decisions  affecting our rights. The Declaration Act provides for the use of decision-making  agreements as the most effective mechanism for our participation in these types of  decisions.

Contrary to negative commentary from opposition parties and some media critics, the  proposed amendments would not alter the existing land tenure system in British Columbia. There would be no impact on the public’s ability to access Crown land. Rather, the proposed amendments make space for the recognition and implementation of Indigenous governance on matters that affect our rights, creating opportunities for more local and relevant decision-making.

The B.C. First Nations Leadership Council also put out a press release

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, UBCIC President, stated “We are absolutely disgusted that the opposition leaders of B.C. United and the B.C. Conservatives leveraged the proposed Land Act amendments as a shameless opportunity for partisan political gain. Their electioneering was a coldly calculated decision to create a wedge issue despite knowing their statements were not factual, and that they would increase racist backlash toward Indigenous peoples. Indigenous rights are human rights and are not up for debate or referendum. We expect the full legislature to work together on an education campaign to this effect and work to fully implement the Declaration Act.

The public discourse around these proposed amendments reveals two deeply troubling realities. The first is that the public, including many local government, industry, and non-governmental organization leaders, hold very little understanding of Indigenous human rights, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Declaration Act. “BC First Nations have fought relentlessly for recognition of our basic human rights,” said Regional Chief Terry Teegee of the BC Assembly of First Nations. “It is unacceptable that we must also bear the burden of educating every British Columbian and person treading across our territories about these rights and about decisions – such as the commitment to shared decision-making agreements – that have already been made, and supported unanimously by all members of the Legislative Assembly. It is past time that others’ ignorance is permitted to prevail over our rights.””

Things took a further turn, when B.C. issued interim orders preventing further mineral claim staking on portions of Gitxaala, and Ehattesaht including Banks Island. Seeing similar media fall-out, the First Nations Leadership Council has been forced to put out another press release.

So much of this doublespeak could have been avoided had the B.C. government put together a communications plan that wasn’t as efficient as a McDonal’s ice cream machine and would allow for their message to be communicated accurately and reasonably. Instead, B.C.’s ambiguity and delays allows opportunists to twist the messaging for their own benefit. 

Why does West Moberly care?

One of the reasons West Moberly moved away from their litigation on treaty rights related to the unwanted Site-C Dam was so they could  enter negotiations with the government. Such negotiations —relating to decision-making over land use — are the exact types of negotiations contemplated in these decision-making agreements. How can any First Nation trust the government to move forward with negotiations in good-faith, when their commitments can be rolled back so quickly?

We must hold  B.C. accountable to the spirit and intent of DRIPA,  and the action plan that flows from the Act. . As West Moberly says:

The proposed amendments, and the implementation of the Declaration Act are  opportunities to build bridges and not walls between our Indigenous communities and  non-Indigenous communities. We call on local representatives and political leaders to  foster positive relationships and reject ‘easy’ points some seek to score by fuelling distrust  with misinformation.  

We all benefit from reconciliation. We have committed to doing this hard work, and invite  you – British Columbians – to work with us to realize the shared benefits that the  Declaration Act promises.”

B.C.? Clean up this dripping mess and get on with making DRIPA good, clear law.

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