BC Releases its first action plan under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act

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On March 30, 2022, the BC Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation released its first action plan under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (“DRIPA”). The DRIPA Action Plan – 2022-2027 (the “Action Plan”) contains 89 actions that BC plans to undertake over the next five years, organized under four themes. It describes a “province-wide, whole-of-government approach” to achieving the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“UNDRIP”). The Action Plan outlines the steps the Province will take between 2022 and 2027 that are aimed at addressing the inequities experienced by Indigenous peoples and improving Indigenous health and well-being.

The Four Themes

The actions are organized by the four themes listed below. Each theme includes a goal and outcomes drawn from UNDRIP and a list of actions.

Theme 1: Self-determination and inherent right of self-government

The actions under this theme focus on developing and maintaining Indigenous governments, jurisdiction, institutions, and laws, and include the following:

  • establishing a new institution designed and driven by First Nations to support nation and governance rebuilding and boundary resolution;
  • developing long-term and nation-to-nation agreements and a new fiscal relationship to support Indigenous self-government, reconciliation, self-determination, decision-making, and economic independence;
  • supporting K-12 and post-secondary education for Indigenous students through agreements, funding, and legislation;
  • co-developing modernized emergency management legislation;
  • advancing First Nations’ participation in regional district boards.

Theme 2: Title and rights of Indigenous Peoples

The actions under this theme support Indigenous people’s exercise and enjoyment of their inherent rights, including their rights to own, use, develop, and control lands and resources in their territories. The key actions under this theme include the following:

  • establishing a Secretariat to guide and assist the BC government in ensuring legislation is consistent with UNDRIP and developed in consultation and collaboration with Indigenous peoples;
  • finalizing the Draft Principles that Guide the Province of British Columbia’s Relationship with Indigenous Peoples;
  • issuing guidelines for legal counsel on the conduct of civil litigation involving Indigenous peoples – the Directives on Civil Litigation Involving Indigenous Peoples were released in April;
  • negotiating joint decision-making and consent agreements under s. 7 of DRIPA;
  • ensuring the minimum standards of UNDRIP are applied in the implementation of treaties, as well as agreements made under s. 6 and 7 of DRIPA;
  • co-developing strategies and plans for water management, collaborative environmental stewardship, conservation and biodiversity, salmon population revitalization, forestry reform, wildfire prevention, and climate preparedness, including through collaborative stewardship forums, guardian programs, and land use planning initiatives; and
  • modernizing the Mineral Tenure Act in consultation and cooperation with First Nations and First Nations organizations.

Theme 3: Ending Indigenous-specific racism and discrimination

This theme aims to address anti-Indigenous racism and discrimination, including through the following key actions:

  • developing and delivering training, education, and resources on Indigenous history and rights and Indigenous-specific racism;
  • establishing an approach to equitable recruitment and retention of Indigenous peoples across the public sector;
  • introducing legislation targeting anti-Indigenous racism;
  • addressing racism in healthcare and violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people;
  • implementing comprehensive policing reforms; and
  • implementing strategies to reduce the overrepresentation of First Nations and Métis peoples in the criminal justice system.

Theme 4: Social, Cultural and Economic Well-Being

The actions under this theme address broad outcomes, including in the following areas:

  • Social: education, mental health and wellness, healthcare and health governance, Indigenous-led wellness services, poverty reduction, housing, overdose prevention, substance use, child and family services, and childcare;
  • Cultural Heritage: place names, parks and protected areas, language revitalization, repatriation, and heritage conservation; and
  • Economic: internet access, Indigenous tourism, economic planning, employment and skills upgrading, economic metrics, clean energy, Indigenous food systems, and fiscal capacity.

Some of the key actions under this theme are aimed at supporting and funding Indigenous jurisdiction over child and family services, reducing the number of Indigenous children in care, and supporting current and former First Nation children and youth in care.

Accountability & Implementation

The Action Plan states that the Province will work with Indigenous peoples to identify tools for monitoring and reporting on progress in implementing the actions. Progress will be reviewed annually and summarized in an annual report by June 30 of each year. The Action Plan will be comprehensively updated within five years.

Comments on the Action Plan

The Action Plan is an important document to know and understand, as it will guide much of BC’s work on issues of importance to Indigenous peoples over the next five years.

However, much of the Action Plan uses vague and general language to describe plans to achieve complex milestones. Many of the actions lack concreteness and read like plans to create plans, rather than the plans themselves. Much additional planning work will be required to carry out the actions and achieve the goals and outcomes. The vagueness of some of the actions also makes it difficult to predict how beneficial the results will be and whether the actions will be sufficient to achieve the Action Plan’s stated outcomes.

As in the draft version, the Action Plan does not link or refer to any specific articles from UNDRIP. This makes it difficult to understand which parts of the plan deal with each of the articles, and it compromises accountability. The concept of free, prior, and informed consent, which is central to UNDRIP and very important to many Indigenous communities, is not mentioned in the Action Plan. Also, it does not appear that the Action Plan addresses Article 28 of UNDRIP, which states that Indigenous peoples are entitled to compensation and redress for the taking of their lands, territories, and resources. This limits the value of the Action Plan as a document designed to implement UNDRIP in BC.

Most importantly, the Action Plan lacks precise timelines or accountability structures beyond naming responsible ministries for each action and requiring annual reports. It does not create any consequences for the BC government if it fails to progress on the actions in a timely manner, or at all, and there is no requirement that all the actions be completed (or even started) within five years. It is likely that sustained advocacy will be required to ensure that the actions are carried out in a timely way.

In addition, much will depend on how responsible ministries interpret terms like ‘collaboration,’ ‘cooperation,’ and ‘consultation,’ which are frequently used in the Action Plan to describe the way government will work with Indigenous people. The ongoing effects of colonialism in BC make it likely that the government will need to be urged to rely on shared decision-making, meaningful collaboration, and robust consultation with Indigenous peoples in implementing the Action Plan.