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Making history at the beginning of reconciliation

Michelle Mungall is the NDP MLA for the Nelson-Creston riding.

As I sit down to write this column, Canadians have woken up to a new Liberal minority government, the leaves are falling in the Kootenays and many people here at the BC Legislature are planning for a historic day Thursday, October 24. This is the day when our government introduces a bill that implements the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) into law. It will be filled with ceremony and four indigenous leaders, including Chief Ed John who worked on the declaration at the UN, will address the Legislative Assembly once the bill, Bill 41, is introduced by Minister Scott Fraser.

This type of legislation is rare, and if passed will be the first time it is passed anywhere in the world. New Democrat MP Romeo Saganash (who will also be in attendance October 24) introduced UNDRIP legislation in Ottawa and the House of Commons passed it, but it died in the unelected Senate because of the actions of Conservative Senators. So here we are in British Columbia, taking a global lead on addressing the impact colonization has had and continues to have on indigenous peoples. This legislation is critical in that process, but it isn’t an end. It is a beginning.

Governments have a major role to play in the societal journey of reconciliation through policies on natural resource development, child and youth care, education, healthcare, social services, environmental regulation, energy development, transportation …You see where I am going. Everything that government does touches people’s lives and it has touched indigenous people’s lives in very negative ways for hundreds of years in what is now BC. This is changing, but more needs to be done for reconciliation. For one thing, we need a clear guide in this long-term process, and that guide exists. It is UNDRIP. But it remains theoretical if not in law. That is why legislation is necessary. It holds government to action and to account.

This bill commits British Columbia to ensure that its laws are consistent with UNDRIP, and to develop an action plan to do so. Working with First Nations, we will report on the Action Plan’s achievements annually so that there is transparency with its progress and clear lines of accountability. This is not a law to sit on some shelf. The bill also gives the provincial government the ability to enter into shared decision-making processes with indigenous governing bodies. These shared decisions could be on environmental protection and delivery of social services for example. Along with sharing the decisions, we would share the responsibilities and accountability –all important aspects of the right indigenous peoples have to self-determination.

Because all of this is new and untested elsewhere, it is not surprising that there is a lot of excitement, but there is also some nervousness about how this will all work out in day to day life. Yet being nervous isn’t a reason to abandon this legislation. Reconciliation is an absolutely necessary journey we must all take. It won’t be easy, and we don’t have all the answers up front. We will figure out most of this journey as we go along. Thankfully, we have a guide, and by putting it into law we are starting a remarkable and positive legacy for future generations.

Michelle Mungall, MLA Nelson-Creston