UN Indigenous Rights Declaration is Implemented in British Columbia

The federal law requires that Canadian laws are consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 

Sheila Arellano // News Editor 

British Columbia has become the first province to pass legislation that requires the government to reform its laws around the spirit and intent of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The legislation also states that the ongoing process of bringing those laws forward should be monitored through an annual reporting structure.  

“In British Columbia, the bill came before the house was presented, then went to committee and there was a rigorous discussion within committee, both NDP and Liberal members, about the standing of the bill, then came back to the house recommended that the bill be passed, which it was. It now stands as a piece of legislation committing the provincial government,” said CapU Indigenous politics and political science instructor Tim Schouls. 

The legislation began as a private member’s bill. Three years ago, the province of British Columbia endorsed UNDRIP, yet it stood as an affirmation of the declaration which Canada had also affirmed and endorsed in 2010. On November 26, 2019, the bill was passed and now stands as a piece of legislation committing the provincial government to take all measures necessary to ensure the laws of Canada are consistent with the UN Indigenous rights declaration. “The declaration is principally about establishing the right of Indigenous peoples to self-determination. Everything else falls underneath that,” said Schouls. “There is also a very strong element within the declaration to preserve and protect Indigenous culture.” 

This legislation will be used as a benchmark to judge the political decisions of the Canadian state at the federal and provincial level. The BC provincial government now recognizes that it must seek to preserve and protect the position of Indigenous peoples within their jurisdiction. “It strikes me as interesting and odd that we would need something like an external international document on the rights of Indigenous peoples to bring our practice of politics into conformity with a series of objectives that would do justice to the place of Indigenous peoples in Canada. One of the questions we might ask ourselves is why do we need it at all?” said Schouls. 

It is in the context of Canada’s history of colonialism, in which Indigenous peoples were marginalized and oppressed, that the UN declaration operates. “We need some kind of benchmark against which we judge our political activity so as to ensure that this group that has been marginalized, oppressed and subjected to the power of the Canadian state has access to some tools or resources to push back. That’s the principle purpose of the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples,” commented Schouls. “To me, it suggests a deep respect for political equality and a reciprocity that draws Indigenous peoples as full and equal partners in legal discussions.” 

CapU students wishing to weave the values of the declaration into their lives are encouraged to visit the Kéxwusm-áyakn Student Centre, to get involved with activities on campus and to speak with their professors about learning opportunities within the classroom.   

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