A New Direction Needed in BC For First Nations

5 days before the election in BC.  Will there be a new Premier at the helm?  After 16 years of the Liberals in power we certainly need a new direction, a new Premier, one who will truly care about the people and the richness of the lands and waters we have. Not A premier like Christy Clark who serves big business, looks for revenue and jobs in our resources and runs roughshod over First Nations rights by approving developments that destroy those rights.  It is time for a change.

When Gordon Campbell's Liberals came to power in 2001, it was with a fiery relationship with First Nations.  He had campaigned on a referendum on treaties that was totally opposed by First Nations.  In 2005 the Premier totally changed his stance on First Nations and endorsed the New Relationship Vision that he and the Leadership Council of BC had negotiated and the Chiefs endorsed that new direction. 

When Christy Clark Liberals came into power she didn’t endorse the New Relationship and did not continue in her predecessor’s path.  In fact, she did not have much appetite for working with First Nations even though First Nations are key to economic certainty in this province.  Her way of dealing with First Nations is to sign on different kinds of agreements that provide things like tenure for forestry, and smaller amounts of revenue sharing. 

On Tuesday, the Coast Protectors and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs launched a campaign called ABC, Anyone but Clark.  They encouraged First Nations to get out and vote against Clark whether it was for the Green Party or the NDP, just get out there and make a difference.  There were many reasons why this campaign was started and why First Nations feel this way.

Christy Clark has not addressed the big issues in this province.  The issue of aboriginal title has not had any resolve.  In 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Tsilhqot’in Nation had title to 5% of their territory they had put before the court.  The Tsilhqot’in and BC signed an MOU but have not been able to conclude those negotiations.  Almost 3 years and BC cannot come to an agreement on what the court already decided. If this was a business deal, BC would have had this completed within a year.

Not only has the Clark government not been able to settle with Tsilhqot’in on a Supreme Court of Canada ruling, they have not worked with First Nations in BC to figure out a process on determining how to deal with aboriginal title lands. Instead, they wait for the next case to rule on aboriginal title as First Nations become more frustrated at the lack of cooperation to negotiate with the province.

The treaty process is still very slow and not yielding results for those First Nation in BC who really want to conclude Final Agreements for their future.  BC refused to appoint a Chief Commissioner for years and yanked the Chief Commissioner offer to George Abbott at the last minute, a former Cabinet Minister of Gordon Campbell.  The Treaty Commission limped along for several years minus the Chief Commissioner and the other Commissioners valiantly tried to fill in the gap and worked hard to cover for the missing commissioner.  There was renewed hope as the Federal Liberals were elected and a new commitment was made to treaty making by all parties.

Settling aboriginal title is important to the economic certainty in this proving but despite that, First Nations right of consent has been totally ignored in all developments that Clark’s government has approved.  Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline and Site C are two of the most prominent projects approved.  Throw in the PNWLNG and Woodfibre LNG, and Clark has alienated many First Nations and reconciliation is merely a meaningless word.  Clark rationalizes these projects as being in the public good, a legacy for the future (in the case of Site C) and the creation of needed jobs.  All projects create more greenhouse gases (GHG), the PNWLNG itself creates almost 3 times the amount of GHG’s in all of BC.  No wonder the Climate Leadership Team’s recommendations were largely ignored, Christy Clark has no vision for reducing carbon in this province.  Free, prior and informed consent mentioned in the Supreme Court of Canada cases including Delgamuukw and Haida, and in the Declaration of Indigenous Rights and in the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in their opinion does not apply to this Liberal Government.  The province also uses the number of First Nations who have signed onto LNG revenue sharing agreements as a sign that these projects can go forward.  Every LNG project will affect First Nations territories differently especially if an LNG facility is built on their lands or the proposed pipelines will affect sacred sites or ecosystems that sustain wildlife, birds and fish that First Nations people depend on for their rights.

Those are two very large issues that have caused First Nations leaders to start the anyone but Clark campaign.  Add onto that the lack of opportunity for First Nations to create clean energy.  The BC government chose to proceed with Site C knowing that there would be little or no opportunity to create clean energy for the grid, an industry that First Nations have embraced.  (in fact the Standing Offer Program that is the only way to provide energy to the grid has been allocated to 2019 and there is a long wait list past that.)

In a recent clean energy survey, of the 105 First Nation respondents survey, 98% said they were involved in the clean energy industry or wanted to be.  These 105 respondents had 78 operating projects and 49 in development.  A large endorsement for an industry where there is now no opportunity to develop clean energy on the horizon.  The respondents of the survey have spent approximately $35 million in projects to date and would spend another $3.3 billion in proposed 249 projects if there was opportunity.  A huge investment for BC and a great economic opportunity for First Nations that is being over looked by a short-sighted government.  And this was only half the First Nations in BC that took part in the survey and this number would be even greater. 

 These are just a few of the issues First Nations in BC are dealing with this Government and many are unhappy at the lack of progress.  Traditionally a high number of First Nations people don’t vote as they feel that the BC Government is not their government, or they feel alienated from the government or they feel their vote won’t make a difference.  Will the campaign to get Christy out motivate First Nations people to vote? Will all the unresolved important issues not being address or going against First Nations consent likely to cause them to go to the polls? One can never know.  In several ridings, if all eligible First Nation voters went to the polls, they could determine who won the seat.  Almost 250,000 voted in the advance polls last weekend.  There is interest in this election and a great desire to have a new government, a new direction and a different future than the one the current Liberal government is offering.  

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