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.