B.C. Premier John Horgan spoke to the Assembly of First Nations in Ottawa Tuesday, the first time a sitting premier has ever done so.
AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde introduced Horgan, saying the invitation was to recognize his government’s world-leading legislation to embrace the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“That’s leadership and that’s movement as well,” Bellegarde told the AFN’s special chiefs assembly at a downtown Ottawa hotel.
Horgan told the chiefs his government has a lot of work ahead, to adapt provincial legislation to the dozens of articles of the UN declaration. Key among those is “free, prior and informed consent” from Indigenous people for industrial development on their traditional lands.
“Free, prior and informed consent is not the end of the world,” Horgan said. “Free, prior and informed consent is what we would expect from our neighbours.”
Taking questions from reporters after the speech, Horgan cited the LNG Canada project, a $40 billion pipeline and liquefied natural gas project that will span northern B.C. to carry gas to Asian customers that has begun construction.
It and the recent decision to close salmon farms on wild salmon migration routes on the B.C. coast reflect the principles of UNDRIP, moving past the confrontation and lawsuits that have dominated Indigenous relations for decades, Horgan said.
Terry Teegee, the AFN regional chief for B.C., thanked Horgan for his efforts and called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to follow suit at the federal level. Horgan said he raised the issue in his first discussions with Trudeau and Intergovernmental Relations Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Horgan has cautioned that while work to integrate UNDRIP into B.C. law is a priority for 2020, it will be a long process with no end in sight.