COVID-19 Pandemic and Treaty Negotiations
Although 2020 has been filled with unforeseen challenges due to the COVID pandemic, the work of negotiations and reconciliation has continued. First Nations, the governments of Canada and BC, and the Treaty Commission have continued our collective work, moving negotiations online. This has required all the Parties to change the way we engage and work, challenging us to do things differently. Each of the Parties are to be commended for responding to the challenges, adjusting, and maintaining focus and progress to finalize treaties, agreements, and other constructive arrangements.
First Nations have also undertaken virtual community engagement initiatives to keep their citizens informed.
The COVID-19 pandemic affects us all, but the greatest burden is borne by those with the least resources for health and safety which in Canada is all too often Indigenous communities. The ability and means to protect one’s community require not only resources but governance jurisdiction. The pandemic has highlighted the critical need to support Indigenous peoples to achieve self-government through modern treaties, ensuring they have constitutionally entrenched authority to protect their communities and people, and in doing so, protecting surrounding communities. We at the Treaty Commission will work diligently to ensure modern treaties contribute to the rebuilding of our communities as we emerge from this pandemic.
Work of the BC Treaty Commission
Over the year, the Treaty Commission undertook several special initiatives to support treaty education, both amongst Parties and the public. This is done in fulfillment of the Treaty Commission’s mandate to provide public education and information on treaty negotiations in B.C.
The Treaty Commission hosted a one-day UN Expert Session in March. First Nations negotiating in Stage 5 of the treaty process where brought together with experts from the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and representatives from the First Nations Summit, the Government of Canada, and the Government of BC. The session focused on the interaction of international mechanisms and instruments with negotiations in BC. Attendees engaged in a dialogue on treaty negotiations, the UN Declaration, and the Rights Recognition Policy.
The Treaty Commission has developed a handbook, Indigenous Rights Recognition in BC: Collection of Key Policies, Laws, and Standards. A small pilot run was released at the UN Expert Session, and the Treaty Commission looks forward to distributing the official version in 2021.
In 2020 the Treaty Commission partnered with the Gordon Foundation to enhance youth engagement initiatives. In September, this resulted in the creation of the Understanding Our Treaties website, that aims to engage youth, including emerging Indigenous leaders, to learn about treaties through interactive, hands-on learning experiences. Site visitors will be able to access online resources, activities and a virtual Treaty Simulation Model. In 2021, the Treaty Commission will be working to enhance the site with BC-specific information on negotiations, ratification and treaty implementation.
Policy and Legislation
In March the Government of Canada fulfilled its commitment to forgive all outstanding comprehensive claims negotiation loan debt across Canada. The completion of loan forgiveness removes what has been a heavy burden on First Nations negotiating for the recognition and protection of their aboriginal title and inherent rights. First Nations negotiation support funding has been 100% contribution only since April 2018.
On December 3 Canada introduced Bill C-15, An Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to the House of Commons, fulfilling a 2019 election Liberal campaign promise. Bill C-15 comes a year after B.C.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (Declaration Act) passed into law in October 2019. The Declaration Act made B.C. the first jurisdiction in Canada to introduce and pass legislation to implement the UN Declaration with ongoing transparency and reporting commitments. The Treaty Commission is optimistic that the BC Declaration Act, and federal Bill C-15 will have positive impacts to treaty negotiations in BC and encourages all Members of Parliament to support passage of this Bill.
Leading into 2021, we have a strong foundation for significant progress. We are pleased that in fall 2020, Premier John Horgan and the NDP were re-elected, continuing strong alignment between the federal and provincial governments on key Indigenous issues and our collective work towards reconciliation.
For more information about treaty negotiations and the work of the BC Treaty Commission, see our 2020 Annual Report.