B.C. Premier John Horgan and the province’s Indigenous leaders have begun their annual summit with a pledge to break new ground by being the first jurisdiction in North America to endorse the United Nations call to enshrine aboriginal rights for land use.
Horgan opened proceedings at the Vancouver Convention Centre Tuesday with a pledge to work with business as the B.C. government passes legislation to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The framework bill, which pledges to adapt B.C. laws to conform to the declaration, is expected to pass in the B.C. legislature by the end of November.
The entire B.C. cabinet is in Vancouver for the sixth annual summit, established by former premier Christy Clark. More than 600 one-on-one meetings are scheduled with the 900 people registered to attend. Other than Tuesday’s opening event, the summit is closed to the public and media.
Horgan and B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser touched on steps already taken by the NDP government, including sharing gambling revenue. A $200 million fund was transferred in August, representing two years of funding, after Horgan’s promise at the last B.C. cabinet-first nations gathering.
The province set up a new organization called the B.C. First Nations Gaming Revenue Sharing Limited Partnership to administer the funds, which the province says will reach $3 billion over the next 25 years when a long-term agreement is in place to provide seven per cent of casino and lottery revenues. The first $70 million has been paid out, some of it going to a housing project on the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation reserve near Fort Fraser, east of Prince George.
The previous B.C. Liberal government began sharing forest resources with the more than 200 B.C. Indigenous communities, most of whom still do not have treaties with the federal and provincial government. Mining revenue sharing followed, and the current government has pledged to fund on-reserve housing, historically the exclusive jurisdiction of Ottawa under the Indian Act.
In his speech to the summit, Horgan cited as a milestone for UN declaration the agreement to shut down salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago region off the north end of Vancouver Island.
“If you want to do business in British Columbia, come and talk to the owners of the land,” Horgan said. “Come and talk to those who have inherent rights, and we will find a way forward.”