New legislation introduced by the B.C. government to enshrine Indigenous rights into law is a first step towards advancing reconciliation, according to Westbank First Nation Chief Christopher Derickson.
The new legislation adopts the recommendations set out in a United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and makes Brisish Columbia the first province to draft it into law.
If passed, the new law would make it mandatory for the province to develop an action plan to meet Indigenous priorities set out in the declaration, give more power to Indigenous governments during the creation of new laws and agreements, and make it easier for more Indigenous groups like hereditary governments to get involved in decision-making processes.
Derickson said only time will tell how impactful the new legislation will be.
“This is a first step, they’ve just tabled the legislation so it has to through a committee process. We don’t know what the end result is,” he said.
“We know what the government’s intent is. The difficulty will be putting the legislation into practice and seeing how the provincial government will be held accountable.”
Derickson said the new legislation wouldn’t change existing laws, but would rather apply to new laws drafted into provincial law.
Derickson said the new legislation will help give more power to the multiple First Nations whose traditional territories lie within the Okanagan area.
“It allows Okanagan First Nations to come together through our seven communities and form systems of governance between us so we can govern across all our traditional territories.”
Seven First Nations make up the Okanagan Nation, which extends beyond the Canada-U.S. border into Washington state.
Despite the progress, Derickson said the UNDRIP legislation needs to be implemented in more areas of the country.
“I’d like to see more governments take this approach. It’s unfortunate B.C. is the first one.”
Bringing Indigenous incarceration, poverty and graduation levels more in line with the rest of Canadians are other things Derickson said provincial and federal governments need to tackle moving forward.