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B.C. pauses plans to amend Land Act

The provincial government says it will not move ahead with proposed amendments to the B.C. Land Act that would have shared decision-making power with First Nations.

“We need a bit more time to help make it work and bring people in,” said Nathan Cullen, minister of water, land and resource stewardship.

“I think there’s real energy within the broader B.C. community to do it.” 

The amendments were meant to enable agreements with Indigenous governing bodies to share decision-making over public land and bring the Land Act in line with the province’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA).

DRIPA was passed unanimously in 2019 and establishes the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as B.C.’s framework for reconciliation. 

The province had expected to bring forward a draft bill of proposed changes in the spring.

“I worried greatly … that misinformation was dividing people, pitting neighbour against neighbour, First Nations against non-First Nations and that’s not good for anybody,” said Cullen. 

‘A lot of education and awareness that still needs to happen’

B.C. Conservative Party leader John Rustad issued a news release Feb. 1 saying the proposed amendments would bring “sweeping changes.”

B.C. Conservative Party president Aisha Estey told CBC’s The Early Edition that the changes will “repeal business” and section 35 of the Constitution already “facilitates the process that we are supposedly trying to facilitate with these Land Act amendments.” 

“We disagree that six per cent of the population should have essentially a veto power over 95 per cent of the land,” said Estey.

The Early Edition14:12Political Panel — Controversy behind proposed changes to B.C.’s Land Act

The NDP are proposing changes to B.C.’s land act that would give First Nations co-decision making powers when it comes to operations on Crown land. But the proposed amendments to the Land Act from the province have been controversial among political parties and stakeholders. Our political panel weighs in.

However, the First Nation Leadership Council and Cullen have said the amendments would not give First Nations veto power over Crown Land.

“I think there’s some accountability, particularly from Mr. [Kevin] Falcon and Mr. [John] Rustad and the opposition who just knowingly spread things they knew not to be true,” said Cullen.

B.C. Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee said the decision to put amendments to the Land Act on hold is disappointing.

“I think this would have helped, you know our overall goal of really creating that space for true reconciliation,” said Teegee, who previously told CBC the misinformation circulating about the proposed changes were “fear mongering at its worst” and a “threat to reconciliation.”

A signage with a subtitle that reads 'We all love the children (every child matters)', along with its Indigenous translation as the main title text in a larger font, is seen in the foreground. In the background, the B.C. Legislature in Victoria is pictured.
Lekwungen signage was unveiled today at the BC Legislature in a reconciliation effort to make the precinct more welcoming to Indigenous peolpe. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

“I’m looking forward to you knowing when this does pass because it has to happen,” he said.

“It’s either that or we go back to the status quo which is really, I think more court litigation, more decisions that are going to be challenged and I think that’s certainly a place nobody wants to be at.”

Cheryl Casimer, political executive with the First Nations Summit, said the pause is frustrating and disappointing. She said the First Nations Summit has been working with the province on these amendments.

“Now we have to wait and hoping the province remains committed to continue in negotiations,” said Casimer.

Casimer said she understands the province has been under a lot of pressure from industry groups and the political opposition worried about the proposed changes.

“Shown me there is a lot of education and awareness that still needs to happen in the province about what the United Nations Declaration [on Indigenous Peoples] is and about First Nation rights.”

Despite the disappointment, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs said he is still in support of the provincial NDP government.

“I am completely confident that our work with the Eby government will continue in spite of the racist backlash from both of the opposition parties,” said Phillip.

‘A more fundamental shift in how we manage land’

The use of Crown Land is governed by the Land Act. Most of B.C.’s First Nations never signed formal treaties with Canada, meaning they never legally handed over land to the Crown. Of the nearly 100 million hectares of land in B.C., about 95 per cent is Crown land, or unceded territory. 

The current Land Act gives final decision-making powers only to the minister in charge, to issue leases and licences for land use.

The amendments would have brought First Nations into discussions on land use at the same time as the government, and allow provisions in the legislation so they can also sign off on the decisions.

Clifford Atleo, assistant professor in environmental management at Simon Fraser University who is Nuu-chah-nulth and Tsimshian, said he is disappointed in the decision, though he didn’t see the proposed changes as “revolutionary.” 

“It was going to allow for some more tools for communities to have more decision-making which on some level would mark an improvement,” said Atleo. 

“The public appetite for that obviously is, is not necessarily very good right now.” 

Man stands with blue background
Terry Teegee, regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, said he is disappointed by the decision to put changes to the Land Act on hold. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Atleo added the pause in amending the Land Act does speak to how hard it has been for the province to adopt its DRIPA legislation, which he calls “important and significant.”

“I think it requires a more fundamental shift in how we manage land and how we manage the economy, which up until now has been pretty unsustainable and pretty destructive.”

Atleo said there is still a lot of work being done by individual Indigenous communities to push ahead with government co-management agreements.

“People are and keep doing what they can to protect their lands or to ensure that they have fair benefit from their territories.”

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