Almost a century before anyone had conceived of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), there was the 1910 Declaration of the Tahltan Tribe.
It emphasized that those who wished to do business in Tahltan Territory would be required to work with the Tahltan Nation and show proper respect for its citizens, territory and rights. The 1910 Declaration was a progressive, inclusive path to harmonious and mutually beneficial relations between the Tahltan and industry.
This, in part, reflects what was advanced Thursday by the B.C. government, in partnership with B.C. First Nations, that will see, for the first time at the provincial level, UNDRIP principles reflected in our laws.
The principles of UNDRIP are already being embraced and practised by much of the B.C. mineral exploration and development industry. Increasingly, industry and First Nations are creating the necessary tools and pathways to obtain free, prior and informed consent where resource development projects are being proposed. There is a growing understanding that the path to a successful project is to have clear, transparent and respectful discussions regarding Indigenous title and rights and proposed project plans as early as possible in the exploration process.
Collaborative decision-making is not a scary way of doing business in Tahltan Territory. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
Tahltan governments and corporations often sign agreements that ensure reasonable efforts are made to communicate with the Tahltan people, include them in economic opportunities through employment and contracting and implement distinct environmental policies and standards created by a team of Tahltan experts.
When the Tahltan Nation and exploration and mining industry work together in a productive and respectful manner, with an understanding of Tahltan culture, governance and decision-making, the outcomes have been positive for all stakeholders.
The proposed UNDRIP legislation provides an opportunity to build upon and reproduce these elements of success exemplified by the B.C. mineral exploration industry and the Tahltan Nation.
The reality is that patterns of litigation and conflict regarding the title and rights of First Nations peoples have stifled investment, job growth and collaborative work toward sustainable protection of our environment. By working together, we can unlock the vast resource potential of British Columbia in a way that ensures sustainable, mutual benefits for all British Columbians and respects the rights of its First Nations peoples. This is the better way forward for everyone.
The UN declaration embodies principles that support and advance the goal of reconciliation in Canada’s Constitution. Government has an important role to play in setting our province on a course toward meaningful reconciliation grounded in these principles. To this end, the legislation being introduced will bring B.C. laws into harmony with the UN declaration, including an action plan to be developed in partnership with First Nations and through dialogue with the B.C. business community and all British Columbians.
For more than 100 years, the Association for Mineral Exploration (AME) has been the voice of the industry in B.C. To succeed, the industry must recognize and respect the unique jurisdictions and rights of Indigenous peoples in the province and throughout the world.
Many exploration companies have already realized that including First Nations in the decision-making process has great benefits, including local knowledge of the land, a local work force and a passion for building economic capacity while being good stewards of the land.
For example, the BC Regional Mining Alliance – a northwest partnership between Indigenous groups, the province and the mining industry – which the Tahltan and Nisga’a nations are part of, took the proactive step to work the UN declaration into its engagement practices two years ago.
It is a good example of how incorporating respect for rights in policies and practices can work for First Nations and industry to create an environment that promotes positive relations even further.
We have had an opportunity to be briefed on the draft legislation as part of the province’s engagement process. We are optimistic that this legislation will lead to further clarity and certainty for investment in B.C. and reaffirm the province as a world-class destination for business and economic development.
This will ultimately benefit all British Columbians, by fostering predictability, good-paying jobs and opportunities, while respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples.
Many companies investing in B.C. already understand that collaborative relationships with First Nations governments are creating improved investment certainty. This legislation will support further collaborative opportunities and enable successful partnerships between First Nations governments and industry.
Chad Norman Day is president of the Tahltan Central Government. Kendra Johnston is the president and CEO of the Association for Mineral Exploration BC.