Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Lisa Beare said it was a huge moment when the B.C. government became the first in North America to recognize the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
Beare said passing Bill 41 was the highlight of the fall session of the B.C. Legislature.
“It’s a truly historic piece of legislation. We’re enshrining the rights of indigenous people,” she said. “It’s an amazing step toward reconciliation.”
It passed unanimously, and now all government legislation will be looked at through the eyes of First Nations rights and indigenous governments will have the ability to be at the table with government, said Beare.
The government has already made moves in this direction, Beare added, such as seeking First Nations input on environmental issues and child welfare.
She said the government is not giving First Nations new rights.
“These rights already exist – that has been made amply clear by the courts.”
The cabinet minister said it will help all levels of government by ultimately providing stable, predictable processes for future decisions on land use and other issues.
Katzie First Nation Chief Grace George also called it a historic moment, saying the bill creates a pathway for meaningful consultation, recognition, and acknowledgment of her people’s rights and title to the land and waterways.
“Katzie will have access to meaningful consultation thorough Bill 41, and I’m happy about that as Katzie people have occupied these lands for over 10,000 years,” she said.
“We actually have something that supports our work with restoring waterways, maintaining significant artifact sites, protecting our sacred sites, and restoring environmental impacts on our lands. Daily, our Katzie leadership council and staff work hard to protect what little we have left, and it’s not always easy.”
George said she has attended numerous gatherings of First Nations leaders to talk about the bill, and watched it transform. Now, there will be a lot more work to do, to ensure all B.C. laws are consistent with the UN declaration.
The new law creates a respectful foundation for government-to-government decision making with the six municipalities Katzie is working with directly, added George.
Grand Chief Doug Kelly, chair of the First Nations Health Council, said Bill C41 is a call to action.
“What it will require, however, is for First Nations leaders and citizens to work together like never before, and it also requires the provincial government to change.”