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Canada’s historic sites get Indigenous voices, stronger protection in new bill

Canada only G7 country without legislation protecting historic sites, despite having more than 300
Steven Guilbeault rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, May 12, 2022. The environment minister says a new bill he introduced gives legal protection to Canada’s historic sites for the first time and ensures Indigenous Peoples have a stronger voice in identifying and protecting places of historic significance in Canada.THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault says a new bill he introduced Tuesday gives legal protection to Canada’s historic sites for the first time and ensures Indigenous Peoples have a stronger voice in identifying and protecting places of historic significance in Canada.

There are more than 300 federal historic places in Canada but it is the only G7 country without legislation to protect them.

The Historic Places of Canada Act intends to change that, while also fulfilling a Truth and Reconciliation Commission call to action to include Indigenous Peoples in the decision-making around which sites are designated as historic and how they are protected.

A decision to designate a person, place or event as historic rests with the environment minister but those decisions are based on advice from an advisory board.

The new bill designates three seats on that board specifically for First Nations, Métis and Inuit representatives.

The act also includes Indigenous knowledge as one of the sources of information the board must rely on when making its recommendations, along with community, scientific and academic knowledge.

Canada’s historic places include everything from famous lighthouses like the one in Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, to military forts, canals, museums, and the homes of former prime ministers. Most of the buildings on Parliament Hill, and 24 Sussex Drive, the official home of the sitting prime minister that is currently not considered safe to inhabit, are also on the list.

Guilbeault said the bill ensures for the first time that all Canadian historic sites are “protected by legislation and any changes to the sites would require that Parks Canada be consulted in order to preserve their heritage value.”

He said the bill is also “an important step in advancing the government’s commitment to recognize Indigenous history and to implement the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.”

Call to action No. 79 from the TRC requested that the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada include First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representation and that Indigenous history, heritage values and knowledge be incorporated into decisions about commemoration.

The existing Historic Sites and Monuments Act outlines in more vague terms than the new bill how the minister can both designate and mark the existence of historic sites, and sets up the advisory board.

The new bill repeals that existing legislation and expands upon it immensely, including more specific requirements to protect and conserve the heritage value of historic places, undertake scientific studies to understand and defend against threats to the sites.

In addition to the three Indigenous representatives, the advisory board will continue to have one member for each province and territory and a member from Parks Canada. But instead of appointing Canada’s chief librarian and archivist, and someone from the Canadian Museum of History, the board can appoint two members from any federal institutions with relevant expertise.

—Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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