BC’s 2017 speech from the Throne was shorter than usual with little in it for First Nations. Coming into an election in May of this year you would think this speech would be stellar and full of important commitments. Instead, it was a regurgitation of what BC thinks they have done well for First Nations. A throne speech sets out the broad goals and directions of the government and the initiatives it will undertake to accomplish those goals. You see none of this in this year's speech.
The Throne Speech said with regards to First Nations that they have entered into 485 economic and other reconciliation agreements in the past 5 years. I wondered where that number comes from and so I did a quick google on the MARR website. With 203 First Nations in the province I figured that each First Nation should have at least two agreements. I know my own First Nation has a forestry agreement and I work with a number of First Nations that have no agreements and are trying to get BC to the table to resolve past issues and prepare for the future. The province seems to like to enter into reconciliation agreements where want developments whether it is pipelines or mines or dams. If BC had promised 30-40 new Reconciliation agreements a year so every First Nation had the opportunity that would have been something to look forward to in 2017.
My quick look at the MARR website shows that there are 30 natural gas pipeline benefits agreements, 17 Economic and Community Agreements, 124 Forest Consultation and Revenue Sharing, 34 Reconciliation Agreements, 35 Clean Energy Revenue sharing, and 13 Atmospheric agreements. My question is how much economic impact has the money or forestry tenure had in the communities? Some of the revenue sharing is not much money and some forestry tenure is not as lucrative as it once was. While this money helps the communities is it enough to help First Nations long term sustainable development that is within First Nations values. It would be valuable to BC to do an evaluation on how these agreements have helped with reconciliation and economic development. Now that would convince me that BC’s agreements have been instrumental with First Nations development than just saying we have 485 agreements with First Nations.
The throne speech goes onto talk about the Chiefs/cabinet yearly meetings they have had for 4 years. This has been a good place to start the dialogue, but how many substantial issues have been resolved or an action plan put in place to actually accomplish substantial solutions to issues within BC. For example, the issue of burial/sacred sites on Crown and private lands still remains unresolved. Promises in the New Relationship of implementing shared decision has never materialized to the satisfaction of First Nations. Strategic Engagement agreements have become part of the solution but as long as the Minister has the final say on land and water issues this cannot be shared decision making. Development in First Nations territories has show lack of proper consultation and this continues to plague the Liberal government. Again, how valuable are these meetings are should be evaluated as to how much has been achieved. The smaller side meetings First Nation have with MInisters and their Deputy Ministers seems to be fruitful and more time could be made for those kinds of meetings.
The throne speech mostly says what they have done in the past without looking for the future. For instance they put $10 million for training aboriginal people in the LNG industry but LNG opportunties have so far has only produced the Woodfibre LNG. They also mention how they put on a healing event for the families of missing and murdered woman and put a safety place place for Highway 16. They also put in place awards for aboriginal youth in sports and putting money into bringing artifacts home. All things done in the past. What’s for the future? What initiataives can First Nations look forward to in 2017? Nothing in the Throne Speech provides that.
The Throne Speech also references an important conversation on Indigenous Child welfare that began with the work of Grand Chief Ed John. If is is just a continuing conversation we can look forward do that isn’t good enough. The issues of the number of children in care has gone on for far too long and the number of children in care has increased. Children in care has become an even more important issue as children have been abused and even committed suicide. When I was on the Leadership Council in 2007/2008, there was an effort to bring in new legislation that would address some of the systemic issues. This did not happen. Now all we get is the promise the work will continue with no concrete avenues to follow. There are no measurables in that promise like reducing the number of children in care by a certain percentage every year and reducing incidences of neglect and fatalities.
The 2017 Throne Speech for First Nations people is pretty dismal. It is all about bragging about things they have done without looking to the future and say this is what we are going to do and how we can measure our success. Now that would be progress. The Throne Speech should be all about their goals and objectives they want to achieve with First Nations and set out their vision for the future. With the election coming up there is not much for First Nations to look forward to with this government and is a good reality check of who not to vote for.