[Posted 19 Aug 2009 and updated 30 Aug, 1 Sept and 3 Sept 2009]
The Recognition and Reconciliation Act … is promoted as an act to recognize indigenous land rights, when in reality it is about setting up provincial processes that secure corporate access to indigenous territories.
– BC Treaty Negotiating Times #3 (summer 2009) 17
A Weird Initiative
In 2009 the B.C. Liberal government made a weird, rapid, and apparently now failed move to put through a Recognition and Reconciliation Act. The haste and timing of the maneuver point to a desire to slap quick tidy wrappers around this huge “problem” before the world shows up for the Winter Olympics in February 2010. (An overarching Olympic imperative is to use artificial deadlines to force unconsidered change.) No draft legislation for a bill that “would override all other provincial statutes” (Palmer : 26 February) ever saw the light of day – only a five-page discussion paper with map: Discussion Paper on Instructions for Implementing the New Relationship.
Two striking features of that paper are
- An assertion “that Crown title exists with Aboriginal title throughout British Columbia”
- A proposal for “the reconstitution of Indigenous Nations”
Reconstitution seems to mean the collapse of 203 existing government-identified native bands into 30 “Indigenous Nations” for the Province’s adminstrative convenience.
[Sidelight: The Discussion Paper makes specific reference to the 2007 Tsilhqot’in decision that recognized aboriginal rights and title to almost half of the 432,000 hectare Nemiah Valley southwest of Williams Lake – but not to the Province’s concurrent appeal to overturn that decision!]
A Provincial Government Desperate for Certainty
The Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation describes what it does in this one sentence. Observe the order of priorities.
We negotiate treaties and other agreements to create economic certainty over Crown land and resources, and to improve the lives of Aboriginal people.
The stated first intention of the proposed Act is to bring certainty to the land base in B.C.
How Events Unfolded
According to media reports, in late 2008 and early 2009 six people (three provincial officials and three native leaders) held about two dozen meetings about the proposed legislation. Then the wraps came off the proposal in late February 2009, in conjunction with a three-day Assembly of First Nations Chiefs in Nanaimo.
Stories on the proposed new act ricocheted through the press in March 2009. At the outset, the Liberal government was talking about ramming through this seismic piece of legislation before the April 2 adjournment of the legislature for the May 12 provincial election. On March 11 Vaughn Palmer reported:
Business leaders have aired their objections in a series of closed briefings with provincial officials over the past 10 days.
On March 13 Vaughn Palmer reported in detail on a legal opinion sponsored by the business community that foresaw “enormous and potentially unintended consequences.” On March 14 (a Saturday afternoon) the Campbell government suddenly announced that its bold plans were being put on hold.
A story in the July 2009 issue of St’át’imc Runner provided evidence of discontent at the other side of the table. On June 2 at the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs regular meeting in Vancouver, the leadership put a motion to support and endorse the proposed Recognition and Reconciliation Act. A vote of 22 to 14 defeated that motion.
In late July, three scattered and almost simultaneous stories about reaction of indigenous peoples to the proposed act made public “grassroots revolt” and “fierce backlash” (Cernetig), “no support” and “absolute mistrust” (Hunter), and “backlash” and “groundswell of opposition” (Manuel).
The Olympic Factor
Only the later reporting on this ongoing story made any explicit connection between the proposed Recognition and Reconciliation Act and the 2010 Winter Olympics. Michael Smyth commented (March 27) that “First Nations leaders” would press the next government, “possibly backed up by the threat of protest campaigns during the 2010 Olympics.” Justine Hunter (July 23) found Chief Stewart Phillip suspicious that “the Premier has been stringing natives along to keep the peace until after the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.” Arthur Manuel, spokesperson for the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade, put it plainest (July 23), calling the proposal
a major public-relations campaign in the lead-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics so the government can pretend it is dealing with indigenous issues.
According to Hunter (July 23),
Chief Phillip said the province’s native leaders – elected, hereditary, elders and others – are set to meet in the last week of August to map out their next move.
Addendum (3 Sept 2009): Rod Mickleburgh centers a news story (with background and attention to diversity of tendencies) on
the first time mainstream native leaders in the province have mused about possibly taking some official action during the 2010 Winter Games.
* * *
[added 24 Aug 2009]
Formal Response by UBCIC
Also see this 30 July 2009 open letter to the British Columbia government sent by Grand Chief Stewart Phillip as President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.
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[added 30 Aug 2009 and expanded 1 Sept 2009]
The problem is that B.C. has a vested interest in stalling and delaying reconciliation so that lands and resources claimed by first nations for their continued cultural and economic survival can continue to be developed. – Wayne Christian
At the End of August
In late August Wayne Christian (chief of the Splatsin Band and spokesman for the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council) offered useful insight into the origins of the provincial government’s “recognition and reconciliation” initiative, which he described as “firmly opposed by most first nations chiefs and members.” This is how he characterized the initial process:
The Recognition Working Group operated largely behind closed doors and through secret negotiations in order to have the legislation passed before the provincial election in May.
The legislation failed to find enactment within the envisioned timeline. After the provincial election, opposition among first nations began to manifest itself to a wider public. Christian also exposed the circumstances that existed ahead of the meeting that took place in the last week of August 2009 (results outlined below):
Following the provincial election, the First Nations Leadership Council, in an attempt to hold onto power, moved the starting point of discussion by consulting with some lawyers who work for first nations and by announcing an All-Chiefs Assembly starting this week. While the invitation to attend this meeting has not been extended to first nations’ members, many members plan to attend to effect a shift in the political landscape or to develop protest action against those who claim to represent their best interests.
On the last Saturday of August, two news stories reported the death of the proposed Recognition and Reconciliation Act after first nations chiefs held three days of meetings. Jonathan Fowlie described the situation as a “significant setback” for Premier Gordon Campbell, but still heard an “optimistic note” from Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation George Abbott – even though the chiefs arrived at a “harsh repudiation.”
Justine Hunter’s more comprehensive and nuanced report perceived a sharp reversal:
It’s a dramatic turnaround for a law that had the backing, initially, of the Premier and top native leaders including Chief John, Shawn Atleo — now the head of the Assembly of First Nations — and Stewart Phillip, grand chief of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
Hunter’s account closed with this window onto the future:
The chiefs have established a task force to look at how they can advance their cause through other channels, including raising their issues while international media attention is focused on B.C. during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
Vaughn Palmer offered a retrospective account of the entire process, giving useful detail on the earliest stages. This is his concluding paragraph:
The [first nations] assembly blamed the demise on lack of “trust” for the B.C. Liberals. But some of that fallout will surely attach to the native leaders who made this proposal their highest priority.
* * *
(In chronological order)
Darrell Bellaart. “Rights, law focus of caucus: Assembly of First Nations Chiefs wraps up with closed-door meeting to discuss legislation,” Nanaimo Daily News (25 Feb 2009) A3
Justine Hunter. “Act would reshape structure of native government,” Globe & Mail (26 Feb 2009) S1
Robert Matas. “B.C. turns to courts after negotiations fail in landmark case,” Globe & Mail (26 Feb 2009) S3
Vaughn Palmer. “Liberals and native leaders press ‘recognition’ agenda,” Vancouver Sun (26 Feb 2009) A3
Vaughn Palmer. “Liberals get in a great rush with ‘seismic’ aboriginal law,” Vancouver Sun (6 Mar 2009) A3
Vaughn Palmer. “Business leaders don’t like Liberal plans for native ‘Recognition Act’,” Vancouver Sun (11 Mar 2009) A3
Vaughn Palmer. “ ‘Recognition Act’ runs into a legal opinion that worries some Liberals,” Vancouver Sun (13 Mar 2009) A3
Rod Mickleburgh. “B.C. puts aboriginal recognition act on hold,” Globe & Mail (16 Mar 2009) S1
Michael Smyth. “First Nations power-share plan too radical: Business, MLAs help Campbell see light on land use,” Province (17 Mar 2009) A6
Jeffrey Rustand. “Campbell’s plan for aboriginal title could turn into a complete mess,” Vancouver Sun (27 Mar 2009) A15
“UBCIC votes on Recognition Act,” St’át’imc Runner (July 2009) 2
Miro Cernetig. “A new relationship founders on old suspicions,” Vancouver Sun (22 July 2009) A1
Justine Hunter. “Talks with province ‘unravelling,’ Grand Chief says,” Globe & Mail (23 July 2009) S1
Arthur Manuel. “Beware of reconciliation act,” Georgia Straight (23-30 July 2009) 15
(The following citations added 30 Aug 2009 / 1 Sept 2009 / 3 Sept 2009)
Wayne Christian. “Are first nations and British Columbia ready to reconcile?” Vancouver Sun (26 Aug 2009) A11
Jonathan Fowlie. “B.C. first nations leaders declare reconciliation act officially dead,” Vancouver Sun (29 Aug 2009) A10
Justine Hunter. “Chiefs kill B.C. aboriginal rights law,” Globe & Mail (29 Aug 2009)
Vaughn Palmer. “Recognition plan hit from all sides,” Vancouver Sun (1 Sept 2009) A3
Rod Mickleburgh. “Native leaders consider action during Games,” Globe & Mail (3 Sept 2009)
*** For backstory, see Shelter Saga. ***
A second homeless shelter near the Granville Street bridge closed two days early on August 5. “Thanks to the availability and acceptance of alternate housing by shelter residents,” said Councillor Geoff Meggs. Shutting down ahead of time, right after a long weekend in the middle of summer, offered an excellent way to preempt public actions and forestall unwanted media coverage.
At the end of the previous week, Frances Bula was already chirping about the innovative solution that would take the shelter’s place, and retailing what B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman wanted to put out about the good deal he had negotiated.
Cheryl Rossi came in with a fuller story, some of it between the lines. While regular users of the shut-down Howe Street shelter are headed for permanent housing, half again as many were being turned away. The new shelter will not be “no barrier” when it opens in September. The Province used its funding power to dictate what happened on City turf.
Rossi also referred to the controversy that led the Province to eliminate the other shelter in the area immediately when funding ran out at the end of the previous month. At that time, the recently closed Howe Street shelter was put on a thirty-day probation whose outcome was never in doubt.
Two weeks earlier, Mike Howell reported an attack on the Howe Street shelter. Someone lobbed a bag of human excrement with an attached note that read:
Just fuck off back to East Van where you all belong. Get the fuck out now. The bombing will continue. Fuck off losers.
[For now, the homeless have in fact been shipped off to the Downtown Eastside, out of that high class Granville neighborhood. Meanwhile, the V2010 ISU seems to have taken no notice of this particular terrorist bombing threat.]
Only a close reader of the Bula and Rossi stories would twig to the fact that Coleman cut his replacement shelter deal with the Holborn Group. This is the same outfit that wants to see the remaining residents removed from Little Mountain housing to facilitate immediate demolition – even though plans to redevelop that huge parcel of land seem to be on indefinite hold. Tom Sandborn has exposed the ongoing uneasiness of Mayor Gregor Robertson with those intentions of the Coleman-Holborn axis.
Sandborn also gave voice to the “persistent rumors” that the Little Mountain housing demolition would clear the way for an Olympic venue parking lot. Yet Bob Mackin’s report on the Olympic parking planned for south of Chinatown flatly states:
False Creek Flats’ biggest vacant lot will become the Olympic parking lot that was rumoured for Little Mountain.
Such confidence may be premature. This “news” was listed two months ago by Spectacle Vancouver as an item presented at a June 3 information meeting:
A large site near Station Street will be used for parking 300 buses and security clearing up to 300 delivery trucks per day. Site preparation is expected to begin in July, with development permit to be obtained in October.
* * *
Historical Note – Making a Few Connections
A City of Vancouver document titled Woodward’s Update : Developer Submission Update, July 20, 2004 shows a cozy little group of four developers in line for that Downtown Eastside gentrification project: Concert Properties, Holborn Group, Millennium Properties, Westbank Projects/Peterson Investments. (“Subsequently Concert Properties and The Holborn Group amalgamated.”)
Concert’s Jack Poole spearheaded Vancouver’s Olympic bid. Holborn has its fingers in the two housing pies mentioned above. Millennium went in over its head with the Olympic Village development. Jim Green (of the Impact of Olympics on Communities Coalition) sold his purported watchdog group out to the Olympics for the Woodwards project – and later on took a job with Millennium in January 2009. All those ugly connections.
* * *
Jeff Lee, “Olympic Village builder hires Jim Green,” Vancouver Sun (26 Jan. 2009)
Tom Sandborn, “Mayor open to reoccupying Little Mountain,” Vancouver Courier (24 July 2009)
Mike Howell, “Residents split on life beside shelter,” Vancouver Courier (24 July 2009) EW10
Frances Bula, “Maligned Vancouver shelter closing; residents to get better digs,” Globe & Mail (31 July 2009)
Bob Mackin, “Olympic parking south of Chinatown,” 24 Hours (5 Aug. 2009)
Cheryl Rossi, “Doomed shelter gains popularity,” Vancouver Courier (5 Aug. 2009) E15