By JP GLADU
Adoption in BC and Canada of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is a real opportunity for strengthening the relationships that have been so fractured for such a long time now.
The BC government, introducing its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, said: “It is about ending discrimination, upholding basic human rights and ensuring more economic justice and fairness.”
And the federal government says: “The UN Declaration is a statement of the collective and individual rights that are necessary for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous peoples.”
Both governments will move over time to ensure their laws and policies are in harmony with the principles of UNDRIP. This creates no new rights. As BC noted: “The Constitution is clear: Indigenous peoples have rights in their territories, and successive court cases have upheld these rights.”
No new rights, then, but a new and long overdue recognition that Indigenous people are equal partners in Canada. Having Indigenous people thus acknowledged is really important. And to have the ability to track towards a happier future through public policy is a great thing.
At the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, we think the most important thing in this whole process is to make sure that Indigenous communities are continuously engaged and supported in the process.
It’s really important to have us at the table, but it’s also important to be flexible to accommodate an Indigenous world view, and Indigenous governance systems, because they are different; we do think about things differently.
When we get the business right, from a government perspective or an industry perspective or an Indigenous perspective, when we all come together, it is incredibly powerful and empowering.
The Aboriginal business sector is thriving. There are some 60,000 Indigenous businesses in Canada, contributing more than $12 billion a year to the economy. We’re gunning for $100 billion.
The 94 ‘calls to action’ of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission are bringing attention to this Indigenous economy.
Call to Action No. 92 addresses corporate Canada directly, urging companies to adopt UNDRIP as a reconciliation framework, and to apply its principles to corporate policy and operations involving Indigenous peoples, their lands and resources.
UNDRIP, then, is going to take us all into a new world of partnership rather than the told world of colonialism.
I know there are concerns and questions: Will First Nations have a veto over resource development? Could one lone Indigenous person somehow block a multi-billion-dollar project to which others and all levels of government have agreed?
I look forward to such issues being explored at the ‘Pathway to Prosperity’ conference in Vancouver on January 14th. The idea is to broaden our understanding, so that we can have more robust conversations and hopefully get to a place where UNDRIP is meaningful and entrenched in policy. (More info on the event at https://undrip2020.ca/).
In the meantime, look at the questions and fears this way: A majority of Indigenous communities and businesses support major infrastructure projects. And not merely support, but are also increasingly interested in equity positions. So now it’s all a question of process.
If consultation with First Nations has been done appropriately, and accommodation of their needs and priorities has been done appropriately, it’s going to come down to political will for governments, meaning Indigenous governments as well. I think we try to do our best do consensus building, but at one point, we’ve got to make a decision.
You put 50 different people into a room to decide on what colour to paint the walls. If you had to get 100% agreement, the walls would never get painted. So, you know, it’s just a process. If you’ve got a good process, it should never really get to a veto.
JP Gladu is president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.
(This column was first published on 02 January 2020 in Rights & Respect Magazine, Pages 19 and 20 at https://adobe.ly/39uLt8F).
Posted here 10 January 2020