Aboriginals cool to recognition legislation
- Aboriginals cool to recognition legislation
Written by Gordon Hoekstra
Monday, 06 July 2009
Feedback from First Nations at information sessions around the province has already shown that if recognition legislation is to go forward it will likely require a "significant departure" from the current proposal, a key First Nations leader said Monday.
Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs president Stewart Phillip said that fundamental elements of the legislative push -- marked out in a six-page discussion paper -- have been "rejected out of hand" during information sessions led by the First Nations Leadership Council.
The rejection appears to mark a set back for the B.C. Liberal government and the province's First Nations Leadership Council, which were promoting the proposed legislation that would recognize aboriginal rights and title, and establish share-decision making and revenue sharing. The discussion paper also calls for the province's 203 First Nations to be reconstituted into 30 historical indigenous nations.
Some north-central B.C. First Nations made their case noisily against the discussion paper proposal in Prince George last month, mounting a demonstration that interrupted the meeting. But Phillip noted that while other meetings have been more respectful, the message has been the same.
Phillip said, for example, that the reconstitution of indigenous nations has not been a crowd pleaser. "It's been widely rejected," he said.
First Nations are also concerned that the federal government is not involved in the discussion of the legislation, bringing into question whether the province has the power to introduce legislation in an area traditionally the responsibility of Ottawa, noted Phillip.
The feedback has already marked a shift in their consultation effort, to one of asking First Nations what would be acceptable to recognize First Nations rights in provincial legislation, said Phillip, a member of the First Nations Leadership Council leading the information sessions.
He said they expect to be busy through the summer collecting more input as an initial list of six communities including Cranbrook, Terrace, Campbell River, Vancouver and Fort St. John, has already doubled.
The information and input sessions will likely be capped by a provincewide First Nation session in late August or early September, where a report on the outcome of consultations will be delivered, added Phillip.
Concurrently, a group of lawyers representing First Nations are working on a framework that could take into consideration the feedback from the communities, he said.
The NDP Opposition has proposed that the province's legislative committee on aboriginal affairs be mandated to consult with British Columbians on the proposed recognition and reconciliation act.
However, Phillip said that's premature given there is no legislation yet to examine.
The Liberal's newly appointed Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister, George Abbott, has already said the government wants to see first what are the reactions of First Nations to the proposed legislation.
"We'll await the advice of the First Nations Leadership Council at the conclusion of their consultations as to whether they believe First Nations in the province are supportive of proceeding to legislation in this area," Abbott told The Citizen recently.
Abbott also made it clear the province would not be acting unilaterally. The legislative push needs the support of First Nations.
The Liberal's legislative push continues an effort by Premier Gordon Campbell started in 2005 when he pledged to form a new relationship with First Nations based on reconciliation, recognition and respect for aboriginal rights and title.
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