B.C. Treaty Commission Chief Commissioner Celeste Haldane speaks during a news conference after the commission released its annual report, in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday September 20, 2017. The often bumpy and slow path toward treaty making in British Columbia has a new tool that can help glide over major obstacles and potentially help produce more than three dozen agreements near completion, says Haldane.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C. treaty commissioner expects UNDRIP bill to speed treaty talks, more deals

The declaration was adopted by the General Assembly of the UN in 2007 after 20 years of debate

The often bumpy and slow path toward treaty making in British Columbia has a new tool that can help glide over major obstacles and potentially help produce more than three dozen agreements near completion, says Treaty Commissioner Celeste Haldane.

The B.C. government’s recent passage of Bill 41, legislation implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, should result in smoother and less cumbersome treaty negotiations, she said.

“I also think it’s complementary to the negotiation process because everything that’s envisioned in the declaration is available in the treaty process, and UNDRIP and Bill 41 provide a framework to move forward in B.C. and that’s whether in treaty talks or not,” said Haldane.

She said the B.C. legislation could provide the final impetus for reaching 37 treaty agreements with Indigenous nations who are in the final stage of talks with the provincial and federal governments.

Haldane said Indigenous nations from Vancouver Island, the northwest coast and the Interior have reached stage five in the six-stage process.

“I would say the treaty negotiations process will be complementary to the legislation in B.C., and why I say that is because in our process our mandate has changed to include the implementation of UNDRIP,” she said. “We are already seeing that happen at treaty tables where treaty negotiations are incorporating the declaration into negotiations and into their treaties.”

READ MORE: UN Indigenous rights becoming law in B.C., John Horgan tells chiefs

Haldane said she did not want to put time estimates on when the 37 nations will reach treaty settlements, but suggested once stage five is reached, final treaties are signed within two years.

B.C. introduced modern-day treaty making in the early 1990s and seven Indigenous Nations have reached treaty agreements since then. The Nisga’a Nation in B.C.’s northwest negotiated a treaty outside of the process.

Of B.C.’s more than 200 Indigenous nations, only about two dozen have signed treaties, with most dating back to the 1800s when the province was a British colony.

Last month, B.C. became the first province in Canada to pass legislation to implement the UN declaration, mandating the government to bring its laws and policies into harmony with the declaration’s principles.

The federal government said in its throne speech this week that it will also introduce legislation to implement UNDRIP.

“I see the legislation finally putting a place marker in B.C. to level the playing field when it comes to human rights issues,” Haldane said. “I don’t think we’re taking away from anyone. I think in B.C. we’re looking at ensuring there’s equity and equality between everyone.”

The declaration was adopted by the General Assembly of the UN in 2007 after 20 years of debate. Canada was originally one of four countries that voted against it. Among other things, the declaration says Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination, which means they can determine their political status and pursue economic, social and cultural development.

The declaration requires governments to obtain “free and informed consent” from Indigenous groups before approving any project affecting their lands or resources, but B.C. Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Scott Fraser said neither the legislation nor the declaration includes wording that grants a veto over resource development projects.

Haldane said the B.C. legislation brings all parties in treaty talks closer together.

“It’s not about a veto,” she said. “I believe it’s about moving to consent. It’s about having a seat at the table at the same time as everyone else when you are looking at decision making. It’s not something to be scared of.”

Haldane said recent moves by the federal and B.C. governments to reform the negotiation process have also improved the climate and flexibility to reach settlements.

A Recognition and Reconciliation of Rights Policy for Treaty Negotiations in B.C. announced last September features a B.C.-specific policy that Indigenous rights guaranteed in the Constitution cannot be modified, surrendered or extinguished when a treaty is signed.

Haldane said federal forgiveness of loans for Indigenous groups to fund treaty negotiations this year also eased the financial burden involved in negotiations.

Judith Sayers, president of the 14-member Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council on Vancouver Island, said provincial adoption of the bill is a step forward but many are waiting for the federal government to implement UNDRIP legislation.

Sayers says five of the tribal council’s 14 nations have signed modern treaties and the Ditidaht First Nation is in the final stage, but the eight other nations are not ready to enter treaty talks.

“I’m assuming as long as we’ve got the provincial government on side, that is going to make it easier,” she said. “The federal government says it’s going to pass legislation. They are all promising UNDRIP legislation, whether they get it through is another question.”

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Salmon closures announced for Skeena and Nass watersheds

DFO notice expands on May 21 chinook ban throughout Skeena watershed

Locals getting good grades when it comes to social distancing: RCMP

The local detachment said the public has been responsible with adhering to COVID-19 practices

Union calling for Save-On-Foods to Extend COVID-19 worker incentive program

Save-On-Foods is ending its two-dollar-an-hour pay increase on May 30

Bish Creek fire removed from Province’s Wildfire Dashboard

Unclear when investigation into fire’s cause will be completed

District looking for public input on cycling plan

Survey is open to the public until May 25

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

DFO allowing at-sea observers again if safe work procedures in place

May 15 fishery notice lays out conditions for allowing at-sea observers onboard amid COVID-19

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

COLUMN: Canada needs to remember rural communities as thoughts turn to pandemic recovery

Small towns often rely on tourism, which has been decimated by COVID-19

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto vying to be NHL hubs, but there’s a catch

The NHL unveiled a return-to-play plan that would feature 24 teams

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

B.C. sees 9 new COVID-19 cases, one death as officials watch for new cases amid Phase Two

Number of confirmed active cases is at 244, with 37 people in hospital

Nanaimo senior clocked going 50 km/hr over limit says her SUV shouldn’t be impounded

RCMP say they can’t exercise discretion when it comes to excessive speeding tickets

Illicit-drug deaths up in B.C. and remain highest in Canada: chief coroner

More than 4,700 people have died of overdoses since B.C. declared a public health emergency in early 2016

Most Read