How the B.C. Public Service interacts with Indigenous peoples has been outlined a new draft document announced this week in Victoria.
The 10 draft principles are based on similar ones introduced by the federal government last year and provide “high-level guidance on how provincial representatives engage with Indigenous peoples and First Nations leadership.” Areas addressed include: the right of self-determination; standard of conduct for government employees in all dealings with Indigenous peoples, and; a focus on approaching “free, prior and informed consent” when proposed actions by the province affect Indigenous peoples and their rights.
Issues involving environmental assessment, child welfare and Indigenous knowledge and language, are part of ongoing work in many ministries and government agencies.
“Members of the public service are uniquely positioned to transform the Province’s relationship with Indigenous peoples through the important work they do each and every day,” said Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “The draft principles will build skills in every ministry to support government’s work towards reconciliation.”
In an interview, Fraser said there have been, for years, concerns over how governments have worked with First Nations.
“First Nations have felt they were just a tick in the box,” he said from Burns Lake this week, adding the draft principles represent a change from where governments dealt with Indigenous peoples in a transactional way.
“The conversation in the past was not based on respect. Now, we’re taking a different approach.”
Fraser pointed out the draft will be the topic of discussion with First Nations leadership groups across the province to refine them further. He added B.C.’s draft principles are basically repurposed from the federal government’s own principles to come out of the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples and the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, stated that he’s pleased with the government’s direction.
“We are operating under a system that was devised long before our government committed to approaching Indigenous people as equal partners,” sad Olsen, who’s a member of the Tsartlip First Nation on the Saanich Peninsula. “It is going to take an all-of-government approach in order to successfully advance reconciliation. From the Ministers and Deputy Ministers to every civil servant, a shift of this scale in how the civil service is informed and makes decisions will not be easy.”
Olsen said in an interview that this is a change in direction by the provincial government. He added while changes has been made slowly over the years, the previous BC Liberal government “was largely off course with the recognition of Indigenous rights and title.”
There are some serious issues between government and First Nations, Olsen noted, including environmental assessments, the “overwhelming” numbers of Indigenous kids in the child welfare system, and the ongoing controversy over the Kinder Morgan pipeline project. Of the latter, Olsen said it’s gotten so bad that some First Nations initiated their own assessments of the project, because they felt ignored by government and industry.
Fraser said he will continue to meet with Indigenous leadership in the province, using the draft principles as a starting point of conversation. He said the process is a journey, but his hope is that B.C. can work with First Nations and be a positive example of this new relationship in the rest of Canada.