B.C. Premier John Horgan used a meeting with provincial and territorial counterparts to emphasize it’s time national, provincial and Indigenous governments work together to heal from a black page in Canada’s history – the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential school sites.
Horgan made the comments flanked by First Nations and National Indigenous Organization leaders at the Songhees Wellness Centre, where Canada’s premiers on Monday met in person for the first time since the pandemic hit.
The importance of B.C. enshrining the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) into law is something Horgan wanted to convey to his fellow leaders.
“The only thing that changed in British Columbia was that justice arrived for first peoples whose lands have been used by settlers,” Horgan said.
Echoing that was Terry Teegee, regional Chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, who said the lessons of B.C. passing UNDRIP should be replicated elsewhere. He urged governments of all sizes to include free, prior and informed consent in the decision-making process.
“I think it’s really important to assert back to provincial governments and nationally to the prime minister that what the United Nations declaration means to Indigenous Peoples is the assertion of their sovereignty and self-determination.”
Cassidy Caron of the Metis National Council said meetings like this are exceedingly valuable in terms of building relationships and learning from the challenges and best practices going on in communities across Canada.
“How can we work together to create solutions that will actually create change and implement change for all Canadians and build a brighter future for Canada?” she asked. “Bringing us all together to meet with the premiers from across this country is critically important and there needs to be more opportunities where we can continue these conversations.”
An increase in the health-care money downloaded by the federal government will dominate the two-day meetings in Greater Victoria.
“We can’t determine what we’re going to do with money that we don’t have,” Horgan said, noting he’s brought up the issue with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the minister of intergovernmental affairs in the past week. “We can go a lot further if we have a partner that is carrying half the load.”
Noting that successive federal governments in recent decades are to blame for funding shortfalls, Horgan said the feds need to make good on last fall’s promise to sit down and hammer out a new agreement with the provinces, which deliver health-care services.
As the provinces aired their criticisms with Ottawa, Indigenous youth called on both levels of governments to do a better job consulting with individuals on the ground.
Members of the Aboriginal Life in Vancouver Enhancement Society, holding a banner outside the centre, called for the formation of a resource board that would represent the needs of Indigenous Peoples who don’t live in their traditional territories.
Jessica Savoy, the society’s executive assistant, said 78 per cent of Indigenous Peoples in B.C. live off-reserve lands, but government consultation only hears from larger Indigenous organizations, such as the Assembly of First Nations, that are more focused on delivering services within territories.
“We want to be at the table where decisions are impacting us,” she said.
Giving the example of how, in Vancouver, the largest population of urban Indigenous Peoples live in the lowest property value areas, Savoy said services need to reflect the individual needs of those off-reserve.
“So we’re all segregated to that community. Indigenous Peoples have the right to live where they choose and have socio-economic opportunities,” she said. “The service delivery model isn’t working for our people and right now the provincial and federal governments are failing us.”
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