Aboriginal title the key to certainty

Aboriginal title the key to certainty

Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson’s column on the need for certainty with Aboriginal title.

There’s no better time than National Aboriginal Day to reflect on provincial government approaches to aboriginal title and what can be done better.

We all know that the land in Stikine was occupied and used by First Nations for generations before non-aboriginals arrived. It was never ceded to ‘the Crown’ in formal agreements like treaties.

In Stikine, we all live on the unceded lands of the Tlinget, Kaska, Tahltan, Gitanyow, Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en. How a provincial government addresses unresolved land title, and the injustices it has created, has huge implications on how we view ourselves as BCers and Canadians.

In the instance of the Tsilhqot’in court case, the current provincial government spent millions of dollars arguing against aboriginal title, taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC). They lost. The SCC justices found the Tsilhqot’in held aboriginal title over certain areas of their lands.

In a more positive light, the current government has decided to take a one-off approach on sharing tax revenues with First Nations on new mines. It is a project-by-project policy, but one could surmise that the underlying motivation is a fear of aboriginal title. Yet even the former BC Liberal attorney general Geoff Plant criticized this one-off approach, saying it leads to greater uncertainty compared to comprehensive government-to-government agreements that cover entire unceded lands.

This uncertainty has big impacts. A recent Chartered Professional Accountants of BC report points out that under the current government in 2016 the Northwest experienced full-time job losses and a declining economy. For our region, certainty for investment, and the jobs that it creates, is dependent on how a provincial government addresses aboriginal title.

The MLA team I belong to endorses the Tsihlqot’in decision on aboriginal title and the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Along with our plan to revitalize environmental assessment and increase monitoring, these commitments will improve certainty for investment, thereby growing full-time jobs, and restore public trust in government oversight to maintain clean air, water and land. We also commit to implementing the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which address social injustices that have arisen from not recognizing unceded territory.

For Stikine, a provincial government’s approach on aboriginal title will define the values we wish to uphold as a society.