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First Nations leaders call on B.C. to truly share the law-making pen

Robert Phillips of First Nations Summit Political Executive says bureaucracy stands in way
First Nations Summit Political Executive Robert Phillips says it is time for the provincial government to share the law-making pen with First Nations during the opening of the eighth meeting of the provincial cabinet and First Nations Leaders Council as part of a two-day event bringing together 1,000 delegates representing 193 First Nations and organizations. (Screencap)

A senior First Nations leader in B.C. opened the latest meeting between the provincial cabinet and First Nations leaders with a demand for “transformative change” in lamenting bureaucratic opposition from the provincial government.

“We need to see true reform, we need to see new laws,” Robert Phillips, First Nations Summit political executive, said. “It’s their laws and legislation, but it has to be true co-development. This means we share the pen.”

He said First Nations are not just stakeholders.

“We are not third-parties, we are the original inhabitants of this land. For thousands of years, we have been stewards of the land and here we are at a time and place, where we can make change — transformative change. We don’t have the luxury of time.”

Phillips made these comments in the presence of Premier David Eby, as well as two other senior First Nations leaders: Regional Chief Terry Teegee of BC Assembly of First Nations and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

All are attending the eighth meeting of the provincial cabinet and the First Nations Leaders Council, which is comprised of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations, the First Nations Summit and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. More than 1,000 people representing 193 First Nations and organizations are attending over two days, making it one of the largest meetings of First Nations and provincial leaders.

Phillips targeted his criticism specifically at senior bureaucrats when it comes to co-development of legislation, in line with commitments to follow the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act enshrining the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Then we’d write in detail what needs to happen, then it would go to cabinet,” he said. “(We) are not seeing that. We are seeing things being stopped by (assistant deputy ministers).”

While Phillips acknowledged various agreements between B.C. and First Nations currently in place or being worked on, more needs to be done given the urgent needs facing First Nations.

“I want to see it in details,” he said. “Until then, it is an action plan on an action plan.”

He also pointed out the provincial and federal elections are coming up. When asked about Phillips’ criticisms, Eby pointed to several pieces of legislation co-developed with First Nations such as new emergency management legislation and the environmental assessment act in reiterating government’s commitment toward reconciliation.

“We have expectations that flow all the way through the public service that deliver these important programs,” Eby said.

He acknowledged areas of disagreement, but also pointed to the larger philosophical shift that has taken place in government.

“This is an historic shift in terms of development legislation together and I agree with Robert — we got lots more work to do and we are finding this path together.”


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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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