In November 2019, British Columbia passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (the Act) committing the Province to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Earlier this year, as required by the Act, the Province released a five year plan outlining its goals and proposed actions to implement UNDRIP.
The Declaration Act Action Plan was developed in consultation and co-operation with Indigenous Peoples and outlines a "province-wide, whole-of-government approach to achieve the objectives of the UN Declaration over time."
The 2022-2027 goals of the Action Plan are:
- Achieving full enjoyment and exercise of self-determination and the inherent right of self-government
- Achieving full enjoyment and exercise of inherent rights and title
- Ending Indigenous-specific racism and discrimination
- Realizing the social, cultural and economic well-being of Indigenous Peoples.
B.C.'s commitment to implementing UNDRIP contains opportunities for organizations to play a role in advancing reconciliation, including economic reconciliation, and in turn drive prosperity.
How do GVBOT members start to realize some of those opportunities? There are numerous measures that organizations can take, including:
- Education & Training – To realize the opportunities, every person within the organization should learn and understand our collective history and the social, ethical and economic imperative to advance reconciliation. The learnings will be continual. In order for Canada to prosper, Indigenous communities must, and be able to, participate.
- Indigenous Nations as Governments – Shift the organization's engagement to viewing Indigenous Nations as governments, just like the other levels of government. Indigenous Nations have responsibilities to their constituents and need to balance competing priorities, including ensuring the Nation's intertwined cultural and economic prosperity, and engaging partners to enter into partnerships. Before approaching a Nation with your organization's request, consider and ask what the aspirations of the Nation are and what opportunities can be generated through assisting the realization of the Nation's aspirations.
- Indigenous Peoples as Partners – We've all heard the business case for ensuring environmental, social and governance factors and incorporated them into organizational decision-making; the same principles apply to ensure participation by Indigenous peoples. Partnerships are driving the growth of Canada's Indigenous economy-which is worth $30 billion today and is expected to reach $100 billion by 2025. An example of facilitating partnerships is supporting Indigenous suppliers. The principle remains that there are opportunities to increase the pie to ensure that when the Indigenous community prospers, the organization prospers. When both the Indigenous community and the organization prosper, society prospers.
- An Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Policy May Be Insufficient – Economic reconciliation is also about addressing systemic issues that have contributed to a lack of participation by Indigenous Peoples in the opportunities that exist for non-Indigenous peoples, such as capacity. While EDI initiatives are needed, they cannot be the sole means of realizing the opportunity to advance economic reconciliation. A seat at the table is only beneficial if the participant has access to the resources and support from others around the table, which meaningfully advance the adage "nothing about us, without us".
The success of UNDRIP in B.C. is dependent upon every level of government, business and individual across the Province recognizing the interrelatedness of our individual and collective prosperity.
Sharon G.K. Singh is Partner and Co-Head of Aboriginal Law Practice at Bennett Jones LLP. Singh provides advice on regulatory, governance, environmental, and Aboriginal law to infrastructure, mining, energy, construction, and agribusiness sectors.