Who Chooses the Way Forward for Reconciliation: Politicians or Indigenous Leaders?

September 6, 2017 marked the first day of the B.C. Cabinet and First Nations Leaders’ Gathering. As part of his opening remarks, Premier Horgan said: “We’re ready to do the hard work, together, to build healthy communities with Indigenous peoples, and to create jobs, economic stability and shared prosperity.”

“Our government has made reconciliation a cross-government priority, and we are working collaboratively and respectfully with First Nations to deliver a better future for everyone,” said Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.

These statements herald a continuation of the Liberal approach to reconciliation based on economics. Integrate First Nations into the settler economy by creating economic opportunities for First Nations and jobs for Indigenous people. Is this the right approach to reconciliation? Is it too simplistic or, worse, a new form of assimilation? Are there more constructive alternatives?

BC Assembly of First Nations A/Regional Chief Maureen Chapman seems to think so. She said: “We are situated in a time of unique and unprecedented opportunity with two levels of government that are fully committed to recognizing Indigenous Peoples rightful place as self-governing nations. This gathering marks a historical moment as we break free from our colonial past and move towards true reconciliation of our Title and Rights.”

Chapman is focused on much more fundamental changes. Building self-governing nations, breaking free from a colonial past and reconciliation of title and rights. This is a much different, richer vision of the process and results of reconciliation than simply integrating Indigenous people into the settler economy.

Grand Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit stated that he was looking forward to a “timely discussion on key NDP commitments including the full adoption and implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls-to-action and full recognition and implementation of the Tsilhqot’in Supreme Court decision”.

Again, no mention of economic opportunities or jobs as a reconciliation strategy. It’s about implementing principles that fundamentally change the relationship between settlers and Indigenous peoples.

Do settler politicians and Indigenous leaders have very different views of the way forward? Does reconciliation start with “creating prosperity” for First Nations or is this another well-meaning policy that amounts to assimilation? Is it appropriate for the NDP to carry forward the ideological approach to reconciliation formulated by the Liberals? Can First Nations rely on the bureaucracy to move reconciliation forward in a meaningful way? What do you see as the way forward to achieving true reconciliation?

Tell us what you think about these questions and the Chiefs/Ministers meeting – please leave a comment below.

4 Replies to “Who Chooses the Way Forward for Reconciliation: Politicians or Indigenous Leaders?”

  1. Rick Braam says:

    Reconciliation is key to moving British Columbia forward.
    Participating in the economy is also a key need in moving forward.
    Lets remember who first ran the economy in BC. In a sense the first settlers were assimilated into the First Nations economies, however, they quickly turned those economies into large commodity based supply chains and stripped them away from the original entrepreneurs.
    I don’t see building skill sets that help Indigenous people become self sustaining as “assimilation”. Self governance require professional skills and communities and nations require skilled people to operate the infrastructure.
    The first goal may not be “prosperity”, although that may be a result. The goal may be pride, self sustaining individuals, families, communities and nations.

    1. Thanks for your insightful thoughts Rick. I find it compelling to contemplate the notion that “the first settlers were assimilated into the First Nations economies” but that imperial policy later took control.

  2. marcel shepert says:

    Much work needs to be done at the inter-tribal level since a basic question remains open: who is the Crown reconciling with? There are over 200 bands in BC alone, the shear amount of attention required would simply overwhelm any government. My point is that this will likely require that the bands begin some inner reconciliation at a “Nation” level. Ethno/linguistic nations with their own laws and codes could then sit down and begin carving a path forward. Resources need to be allocated to assist the nations to begin the work of self-governance and codification of laws. Some nations are ready others not so much.

  3. Rick Braam says:

    Reconciliation is definitely a priority but the process of getting there is a concern of mine.
    When I was in government, a senior bureaucrat told me “the process is the product”. I
    totally disagree. The process has been the problem.
    We have created a negotiation machine where millions of dollars are expended on negotiation “teams”, travel, expensive legal and consulting help. With so many people benefiting from the “machine”, it seems there is little motivation to move swiftly.
    I hate to sound like a cynic, but there is a real dichotomy here where negotiation processes have gone on for years at the Waterfront Hotel or similar venues in Vancouver while back in the community I experience seeing hopelessness, poverty, dependency and other issues on a daily basis.
    Every community is at a different point in the continuum to self reliance and sustainability, however, there are a number of indigenous communities that need opportunity, education, proper housing and a functional system where they can hone their inherent skills, put some bread on the table and hold their heads high.
    Its not as much a need for individual capacity building as it is for capacity realization. Without opportunity, the realization of one’s skills and where they fit in the community and general economy cannot occur.
    The process is the problem.
    If we want to truly enter into meaningful dialogue, lets move a little faster and have a parallel process and funding at the community level to build up our people, families and communities to become proud, self reliant and strong.

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