Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Aboriginal Rights and title, UNDRIP among themes for MLA Ellis Ross in Monday Legislature speech

Skeena MLA Ross speaking in the Legislature
on Monday morning

"Court cases do not decide on jurisdictional representation. They decide on principles that all First Nations can utilize, especially when you're dealing with Aboriginal rights and title, and especially when you're dealing with the infringements of Aboriginal rights and title under section 35 of the constitution." -- Skeena MLA Ellis Ross at the Legislature on Monday

Skeena MLA provided for a range of observations towards the topics of Aboriginal Rights and title and the recently adopted UNDRIP declaration in British Columbia, speaking as part of the morning session at the Legislature on Monday.

Recounting court cases on Aboriginal issues of the past and themes of jurisdiction Mr. Ross called attention to the scope of representation when it comes to Aboriginal rights and First Nations communities.

"There's another principle that people fail to mention. It's the idea of jurisdictional representation, and it actually contradicts what people are saying about the hereditary chiefs having jurisdiction over Crown lands or rights and title. It doesn't make any sense, because in these court cases, it's been established that Aboriginal rights and title is a communal right. It belongs to the community. It doesn't belong to elected chief and council. It doesn't belong to hereditary chiefs. It doesn't belong to individuals. It doesn't belong to any special interest groups. It belongs to the community in question.

So it only stands to reason, then, that the community should be able to decide who represents them in their Aboriginal rights and title issues. And in most cases, First Nation communities have been comfortable with their leadership structure. It's never become an issue, especially in the last 14 years, 15 years, when we've been dealing with Aboriginal rights and title successfully, not just in LNG pipelines but in forestry."

Using the forestry issues of the last two decades and more recently the arrival of LNG, the Skeena MLA highlighted how he views those victories for First Nations in the past should make for a road map for the future.

"There are countless numbers of agreements between First Nations proponents and governments that address all areas: mining, tourism, forestry, LNG pipelines, Trans Mountain. Aboriginal rights and title is serious business. It should be treated like that. Not only does it define our roles as First Nations, the Crown, or to a lesser extent, the proponent. If it is not abided by, as a road map, it can get out of hand really quick. I think we can all see, by watching news, what I'm talking about.

 This is a real shame, because from my perspective, as First Nations, after decades of fighting, we won the battle. 

We won. We won in 2004 with the Haida court case on the duty to consult and accommodate. That principle got elevated with the Tsilhqot'in court case, where governments were even forced to do a higher standard of consultation and accommodation."

Mr. Ross also took note of the news of Sunday of the cancellation of the Teck mining project in Alberta and noted that 14 First Nations had supported the project towards employment and other benefits it would have brought to their communities.

"I see that there's celebration by politicians in B.C. and Canada, talking about the demise of Teck. That is to celebrate the economy declining in Canada and to see those investors go to the United States. 

What country do you represent? Why do you ignore the 14 First Nations that have actually supported Teck for the reasons I just mentioned? 

 Because there's one principle of case law that everybody else seems to forget. Aboriginal rights and title principles are meant to be on a go-forward basis. It's not meant to address the past in general. It's supposed to make sure that whatever happened in the past doesn't happen again. 

And We've got to observe the honour of the Crown. We've got to make sure that Aboriginal rights and title is upheld in section 35 of the constitution. We're one of the only countries in the world that have Aboriginal rights and title recognized by the constitution. 

Which makes the document United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous people irrelevant and actually combative to the process that Canada has put in place since 1982."

Further on the topic of UNDRIP, which was adopted by the Legislature in the fall session of 2019, Mr. Ross returned to some of his discussion points during the debate at the time, wondering again why the province and Canada as a whole is looking to take advice from the United Nations when they already have a road map for future engagement in place.

"We have peace in the woods under the forest and range agreement that was developed 12 years ago under rights and title. Why do you throw in UNDRIP? That was actually designed by committee by foreign representatives based in New York. 

Who says that New York has any interest in what Aboriginals are facing today? And why are you taking advice from the United Nations when we've already got our own road map, and it's been proven? 

Our First Nations are digging themselves out of poverty, not because of the handouts, not because of government programs. It's because we're making our own way through the economy"

You can review the full presentation of Monday in the Legislature from the Chamber Video from the Morning session, Mr. Ross's contribution starts at the 10:32 AM  mark.

A transcript of his remarks is also available from the Legislature hansard page here.

More items of note on the work of the Skeena MLA in the Legislature can be found from our archive page here.

A wider overview of the provincial political scene can be explored through our political blog D'Arcy McGee.

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