Local MLA Adam Olsen says the formal enshrinement of a landmark international declaration on Indigenous rights into provincial law marks a necessary but insufficient step in reconciliation.
Olsen said British Columbia’s decision to enshrine the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as the first Canadian province and jurisdiction in North America creates a framework by which Indigenous and non-Indigenous British Columbians can genuinely collaborate.
“UNDRIP gives us the framework to do that,” he said. “Now, it doesn’t do that. It gives us the framework to achieve that. It’s still up to us. It’s still up to the politicians to develop an action plan. It’s still up to people who live here, the citizens of British Columbia to embrace it.”
Olsen made these comments in a year-end-interview with the Peninsula News Review. British Columbia first introduced legislation enshrining UNDRIP into provincial law in late October and the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands used the legislation’s various stages to discuss its historical significance for British Columbia, as well as its personal relevancy.
The bill received Royal Assent on Nov. 28 and broadly mirrors a federal private member’s bill that passed the House of Commons but did not make it out of the Senate because of the last federal election.
Olsen said during first reading of Bill 41 that it marks the first step towards undoing the legacy of laws that “took away our children, prevented us from voting, stopped us from hiring lawyers and protecting ourselves, imposed segregation upon us and implemented the reserve system.”
As the child of an Indigenous father and non-Indigenous mother, Olsen experienced this reserve system underscoring the personal significance of UNDRIP.
“I grew up on an Indian reserve,” said Olsen, a member of the Tsartlip First Nation. “I have a Certificate of Indian Status. I’m a product of the Indian Act. My family is a product of the Indian Act. My dad went through the [residential] schools that they [the federal government] created for the Indian kids. It’s very much part of the story line of who I am. But I’m also a mixed-heritage guy. My mom has German and English ancestry. So to a great extent, I am a reflection of that uncomfortable relationship [between the colonizer and the colonized].”
British Columbia’s enshrinement of the UNDRIP provisions makes B.C. the first Canadian province to do so.
But if historic, Olsen also tried to put Bill 41 into perspective. “British Columbia is the first to adopt [UNDRIP], but it has also been the jurisdiction that has had the most egregious and deliberate violations of the rule that the colonizers set for themselves.”
UNDRIP has received criticism from voices on the political right and the corporate sector, who fear that it grants Indigenous a veto right over resource development, with critics focusing on the concept of consent. Speaking in the Legislative Assembly, Olsen said this critique is a “myth” designed to “wedge” British Columbians against each other.
“Let me speak clearly,” he said. “Consent is not a veto over resource development. No rights are absolute.”
This said, consent is a much clearer concept than the more amorphous duty to consult. “So while it might be a more stiff task to get consent, it is a more clear determination at the end of it.”
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