In general, many First Nations people feel that we have our own systems of government and that we are not part of Canada and British Columbia's governments. That we do not get involved in their systems of government and they do not get involved in ours. There are many other reasons as well.
Consequently, while both the Liberals and New Democrats are looking for new leaders, a very small percentage of First Nations people are members of either party, which means we will not be playing a part on who leads this province, their views, goals and aspirations.
I have never taken out membership in a political party. I have always tried to remain non partisan, especially when I was Chief. You have to be able to work with whatever party is in power and if you are associated with one party and the other wins, they may not work with you and will be at the bottom of their priority list. A harsh but very real reality as I have observed over the years.
Many First Nations people do not get involved in party politics or vote in elections, yet we could swing the vote in many ridings. For most, the whole system seems very far removed from us and not relevant.
But in actuality the Premier and his cabinet ministers play a very vital role in passing laws, regulations and policies that directly affect us as First Nations people. In this past year alone, the Clean Energy Act was passed with explicit provisions for First Nations and energy project. The Water Act is being amended and affects our aboriginal right to water. The HST and carbon taxes were introduced without consultation with First Nations. I could go on.
The Provincial government makes decisions on development projects that impact our territories. The Prosperity Mine was turned down but others were not. Site C is moving ahead and it will be the government who decides whether it proceeds. Other similar projects are everywhere, the Raven Coal Mine on Vancouver Island, other mines, transmission lines and alternative energy projects. We are consulted but in the end the government gets to “balance” the public interest.
The New Relationship was a vision document was to bring reconciliation with the Province and First Nations, provide for shared decision making, revenue and benefit sharing, Land Use Planning, and other mechanisms. There were some agreements made with some First Nations on revenue sharing such as in treaty 8 or with Kamloops Indian Band. Settlements were reached in the name of the New Relationship but only with a few communities. The problem was that not every community was able to share in the benefits of the New Relationship and in many communities nothing changed making people wonder what all the fuss was about, there was nothing new, just the same old. Again, the power to implement was with the Government though Leadership pushed mightily to have the promises fulfilled.
Gordon Campbell had good vision. The New Relationship was a good vision that had many good elements. His vision on the environment and reducing greenhouse gases and introducing carbon tax put BC in the lead in the country, fighting for a sustainable future. His down fall was implementation and leaving the job to bureaucrats who did not share his vision. No wonder those visions moved at a snails pace.
We need a premier that will fully implement the New Relationship. One that will share revenues and benefits that comes from our territories. This money will help with community and economic development and other needed things in our community. We need to be involved in shared decision making about the resources in our territory. Only when we have a role in determining what projects can go ahead or how they can go ahead will we be able to preserve and protect our rights and way of life and stop the continual battles between the government and First Nations.
We need a premier that will respect our Land Use Plans and our role as stewards over our territories. We need a premier who will put in place a dispute resolution centre so that when governments and First Nations disagree, there is a system in place to help resolve the problems before they go to court or the First Nation puts up a blockade.
We need a premier who will work with us to change the poverty in our communities. While I realize the many of the financial and legal responsibilities lie with the federal government, there are still things the province can do to help us to provide sufficient homes, create jobs, provide quality education to our youth and opportunities for post secondary education or skills training.
We need a Premier that will continue to champion our languages to move them from endangered languages to ones that flourish. That will champion our culture, laws and values.
But mostly, we need a Premier that can ensure that the whole bureaucracy of government will carry out the visions that are set by the Premier and First Nations and implement the plan that will bring our people out of poverty and make First Nations a vital part of BC.
I look at the candidates, Christy Clark, Kevin Falcon, George Abbott, Mike DeJong and Moira Stillwell and my heart sinks. Nowhere in those candidates do I see a person who will be the kind of premier we want and need. Too bad you couldn’t take the best qualities out of all of them and put them in one person. Christy Clark, Kevin Falcon and Moira Stillwell all fall short of in depth experience with First Nations. Kevin Clark is all about business and supporting business. He wants to cut the plan to reduce greenhouse gases and cut the carbon tax. There goes the environment and our ability to continue exercising our rights. He says business will be done above First Nations objections. Scary! Christy Clark hasn’t said anything about First Nations that I am aware of. All I really know about her campaign is that she wants a holiday in February and an early election. Not a lot to go on there. They are the two lead candidates. Heaven help us.
Both George Abbott and Mike Dejong have been Minister of Aboriginal Relations. Both achieved some successes, but not enough in my opinion. They are familiar with first Nations communities and what is and is not happening. They did not grab hold of the New Relationship and use it as a means to resolve the past grievances of First Nations, provide revenue sharing or shared decision making. We tried hard for years to get the government to share a mere 3% of gaming revenues with the 203 First Nations in BC. Profits alone from gaming increased 7% a year. When Mike DeJong was Minister of MARR, he refused to allow the gaming revenue sharing. Neither he nor the Premier would tell us why, just said no. Low hanging fruit, an opportunity to share with every First Nation in the province. It would have meant around $345,000 per year per first nation, not a lot, but to First Nations, that would have been an incredible boost for community and economic development. Lost opportunities with First Nations. We now have all of 2 treaties completed after 16 years and not a lot of momentum under either Minister to change mandates to ensure treaties would be completed. Moira Stillwell is an unknown to me.
So where does that leave us as first Nations people in determining who the next Premier is? Nowhere! Unless we are members of the liberal party, we will not have a voice in electing a very key person and position in this province. The Provincial government is not our government, but that government affects our lives in so many ways. We need to find other ways to play a role in what goes on in this province and if the person that is elected by some 70,000 British Columbians is not someone we can work with, the next 26 months could be rough. We as First Nations people have different needs than the rest of the public so we know they will not be looking for the same things we are. It is a dilemma. I can’t bring myself to encourage people to sign up for a party that we feel no part of, yet by not being part of it, we are left out of the decision process. For myself, I go back to my philosophy, you work with whoever is in power and use your powers of persuasion, your rights and title to make your points and change the world. We all have to make our own choices on whether to vote within a party and in an election. One way or another, the Government of BC has to settle with First Nations, the next Premier of BC cannot lose sight of that fact if economic certainty is important to them.