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BC Moves towards Aboriginal Rights Legislation

My Anthropology of British Columbia students discussed yesterday the proposal of the BC government to legislate aboriginal rights (and title?) into existence. Their responses to the items summarized in news articles listed below were careful and insightful. We tried to consider, for example, what the government has to gain and lose. We tried to consider what aboriginal people have to gain and lose.

Many students were concerned by the proposal to consolidate 203 bands into 30 larger groups. We just weren’t sure how this would work or be accomplished largely because of the existing issues like overlapping territories. A few people suggested that the proposed legislation was timed to coincide with the Olympics; without such legislation, BC would look hypocritical after Canadian condemnation of Chinese human rights violations in the lead-up to the Beijing games.

Today, Vaughn Palmer writes in the Vancouver Sun that BC resource development businesses are concerned about the legislation. No surprise there, I suppose, as the acknowledgment of aboriginal rights and title serves to hinder mining and logging plans more seriously than unresolved land claims. Here are some of the questions Palmer raises in his piece:

The questions, as I understand them, are fundamental. What would the blanket recognition of aboriginal title mean for the status of Crown land? Will natives gain a de facto veto over every land use and resource management decision in B.C.? Does the province even have the power to recognize title when the Constitution assigns the paramount role to the federal government in dealings with aboriginal people?

Serious questions. And the answers are complicated enough to defer until the legislation is unveiled (at the very least). I suspect the validity of such legislation will end up in court.

Other Recent News Articles

My native rights plan or the road to ruin, Campbell says to critics (Vaughn Palmer, Vancouver Sun; March 28, 2009)

Recognition act could replace treaties (BCLocalnews.com)

Currently, only 60 of B.C.’s 203 separate groups are at the B.C. Treaty
Commission table with provincial and federal governments. The proposed act would “reconstitute” them into about 30 “indigenous nations” as they existed before European contact, and those regions’ representatives would develop a system to share revenues from resource development.

“One could argue that the practical difference between a comprehensive agreement with an indigenous nation and a treaty under the treaty commission process would be very minimal,” de Jong said in an interview Monday.

Native ‘Recognition Act’ will create a better future (Vancouver Sun; March 13, 2009) — letter by Ed John, Philip Stewart, and Shawn Atleo in response to Vaughn Palmer

Amalgamation of native communities proposed (CTVBC.ca; Mar 8, 2009)

B.C. moves to recognize First Nations rights (Globe and Mail; March 5, 2009)

B.C. government moves recognize First Nations rights and title (Canadian Press/Yahoo.ca; March 5, 2009)

Natives get new rights in B.C. bill: ‘Change on a seismic scale’ boosts status – and economic benefits (Victoria Times Colonist; March 5, 2009)

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