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Canadian First Nations leaders take stand to defend Land Act reforms

Giovanni Torre -

First Nations leaders in British Columbia, Canada, have come out strongly in defence of proposed land law reforms in the province that would implement Indigenous rights under international law.

On Thursday the First Nations Leadership Council took aim at criticisms of the proposed Land Act amendments, describing the claims as "inaccurate and unhelpful, and implicitly rely on outdated, mistaken, and regressive views relating to the rights of First Nations".

In a statement, the Council noted that in 2019, the provincial legislature unanimously passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act which affirms the application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to the laws of British Columbia and contributes to its implementation.

"Among other things, the UN Declaration recognises that First Nations have the inherent right to self-determination and to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights.

"In furtherance of that recognition, the Declaration Act provides the opportunity for the Province to negotiate joint and consent-based decision-making agreements in relation to matters affecting First Nations with First Nations governments," the Council noted.

The First Nations Leadership Council, which includes the political executives of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations, First Nations Summit, and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said the proposed Land Act amendments are "a critical next step" for the Province in fulfilling its commitments under the Declaration Act and to align its decision-making processes with the UNDRIP.

The Council noted that the amendments will allow the Province to negotiate decision-making agreements with First Nations under the Land Act in the future, and that any agreements that are negotiated will be subject to the public engagement processes mandated under the Declaration Act.

"Contrary to comments that have been made about the proposed Land Act amendments, they will not grant a "veto" to First Nations governments, and they will not immediately alter the existing land tenure system in British Columbia," the Council said.

"Rather, they will make space for the recognition and implementation of First Nations' unceded governance rights in relation to land and resource development in their territories – through negotiation and agreement with the Province in accordance with the Declaration Act – rights which have been largely ignored by colonial governments for the last century and a half."

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   Giovanni Torre   

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