What is B.C.’s Approach to Economic Development Agreements?

(This article is part of a series on Understanding Economic Reconciliation Agreements. Click here to start over at the beginning.)

Historically, economic reconciliation agreements developed unintentionally from what were basically non-treaty governance arrangements and economic development agreements between the Province and individual First Nations. They have been driven not by government policy, but by the First Nations themselves demanding both control of economic opportunities and the governance framework to do so effectively.

As this collection of non-treaty agreements – which includes everything from marinas to forest management to self-government – began to grow and the process became standardized, the Province added the label “reconciliation agreements”. Yet exactly what these agreements are reconciling is not really clear. They expressly do not address Aboriginal title and rights and have nothing to do with reconciling past policy such as residential schools.

Rather, economic reconciliation agreements are nation-to-nation framework agreements built around economic development opportunities. A very Liberal – and colonial – approach to reconciliation! Ignore the issues of Aboriginal title and rights and addressing the wrongs of the past. Economic opportunities for First Nations and jobs for Indigenous people will solve the problem!

We may be cynical, but does that have the potential to sound like a modern form assimilation?

Of course, Indigenous people have the right to live as long and as well as settlers. And perhaps a viable economy for every First Nation is the basis of their moving towards self-determination. But should it not be on their own terms rather than those forced upon them by the colonial economic system? And should it be more meaningful than simply making money? Is there a model for this? Are there more constructive alternatives to economic reconciliation agreements? We believe there are.

We think that we are about to find out with announcements to be made this week at the B.C. Cabinet and First Nations Leaders’ Gathering in Vancouver. Can an NDP government simply continue with the so-very Liberal approach to reconciliation? Or will it announce a different approach? What would that look like? And how well has the government consulted with First Nations on this matter? And what about the treaty process?

We will be following the B.C. Cabinet and First Nations Leaders’ Gathering closely and reporting out to you on announcements and reactions later this week. The future of Indigenous-settler relations in British Columbia may be set this week. The importance of this to the future of this province cannot be exaggerated.

We would love to hear from you on your thoughts about economic reconciliation agreements and where you see the Indigenous-settler relationship going under the NDP government.

Supplemental reading: Our review of the announcements from the September 2017 B.C. Cabinet and First Nations Leaders’ Gathering.