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BC Liberals have not committed to UN declaration on Indigenous rights

Freda Huson, middle, greets hereditary chiefs from all five clans along with staff of the Office of the Wet'suwet'en at the Unist'ot'en bridge checkpoint in northern British Columbia, September 3, 2015. In March, Indigenous organizations in the province issued a questionnaire to the BC Liberals, the BC Greens and the BC NDP asking for their positions on a variety of subjects, including their stand on the UN declaration (UNDRIP).

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Among British Columbia's three parties vying to win next week's election, only the BC Liberals have not committed  to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In March, Indigenous organizations in the province issued a questionnaire to the BC Liberals, the BC Greens and the BC NDP asking for their positions on a variety of subjects, including their stand on the UN declaration (UNDRIP).

The first question the survey asked the parties was how they will "transform the current relationship between First Nations" and "all levels of government in light of the adoption of UNDRIP by Canada."

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"The UN declaration is one of the priority areas given that it has been endorsed unequivocally by Canada," said Cheryl Casimer, political executive with the First Nations Summit. "[UNDRIP] does provide a number of recommendations in terms of how states will interact with Indigenous peoples. It basically sets the tone for how we can move forward together in a new era, in a new British Columbia."

Last month, after initially resisting an outright embrace of the declaration, Canada formally removed the objections lodged at the United Nations by the Stephen Harper Conservatives. The Tories said they were worried the wording of the 2014 document could be seen as allowing aboriginal groups to veto things such as major development projects.

In B.C., with billions of dollars worth of developments proposed on lands subject to aboriginal land claims, the BC Liberal government had warned that UNDRIP could put jobs and the economy at risk because of the declaration's stated requirement that Indigenous people offer "their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them."

The BC NDP responded by saying they will adopt UNDRIP and that "it will be [their] election platform." The BC Greens response stated they "would fully commit to all action required of provincial governments to adopt and implement" the declaration.

For Wet'suwet'en Chief Na'Moks, part of this process of moving forward with reconciliation will require Indigenous communities to participate in the voting process.

"Over the years, people have decided not to vote because they have no faith in the government and then they complain," he said at Monday's launch of the Anyone But Clark campaign.

"I'll tell you if you don't get out and vote, you have nothing to complain about. Our people get so frustrated that they step back. That can't happen any more. Our youth, our elders, all British Columbians must get out and vote because this is how we change the future."

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The survey also asked questions about the parties' perspectives on treaty rights, child welfare, education, the environment and natural-resource management.

For Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, the BC Liberals' and the BC Greens' responses to the questionnaire fell short.

"Disappointingly but not surprisingly, the BC Liberals' responses were very status quo and more of the same," he said. "The BC Greens' responses revealed their lack of understanding of Indigenous interests, Indigenous rights and Indigenous issues."

Mr. Phillip acknowledged that the Green Party showed a desire and willingness to learn, but that it was too little, too late.

"We don't have time for that," he said. "We need a party that is committed to hit the ground running."

Mr. Phillip said he felt the BC New Democrats' responses were "the most comprehensive" and "reflected a knowledge and understanding" of Indigenous issues and reconciliation.

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Ms. Casimer said the survey responses could be a helpful tool for Indigenous communities, especially when considering candidates in their ridings.

"It's something similar to what we did during the federal election," she said. "The questions were not just crafted by the leadership council, the questions came to us by means of an engagement process with a number of our councils."

Video: B.C. NDP leader defends temperament after debate (The Canadian Press)
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