VANCOUVER — The British Columbia government must do more to open the doors of power to Indigenous people and initiatives in the province, Premier David Eby was told Thursday.
B.C. First Nations hear "good messages" from the New Democrat government, but still face bureaucratic holdups at crucial stages of negotiation, said Robert Phillips, a First Nations Summit political executive.
Phillips made the comments at the opening of three days of meetings between Eby and members of his cabinet and more than 1,000 Indigenous leaders from about 190 First Nations.
"We're hearing good messages, don't get me wrong, from the premier and the cabinet," he said. "I commend the government for this work but I want to see it in details. That's the necessary next steps that have to happen."
First Nations representatives still face hurdles behind the scenes despite the government's adoption of B.C.'s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act four years ago and introduction of an action plan.
The act mandates the government to bring provincial laws into alignment with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Phillips said the government is required by law to follow the act.
"That means this pen that the government holds, (it) has to pass it over to us," he said. "We're not seeing it. We're seeing things stopped by the ADMs (assistant deputy ministers)."
Phillips said Indigenous leaders still face closed doors when final decisions are being made at the political level on projects and initiatives that affect their lives.
"That's the necessary next steps that have to happen," he said. "Until then, it's an action plan on an action plan."
Eby, who spoke at the opening of the meetings, said Indigenous leaders "raise an important point" about bureaucrats standing between First Nations and political leaders on the path to reform.
He addressed First Nations' frustrations of trying to change attitudes, relationships and laws in B.C.
"We've got a lot more work to do and we are finding this path together," said Eby, adding the government has worked together with First Nations on the province's new Environmental Assessment and Emergency and Disaster Management acts.
He said during the time he was B.C.'s attorney general, the ministry worked with First Nations on litigation policy that would reduce the friction between Indigenous and government legal teams on court matters.
"This is a historic shift in terms of developing legislation together," Eby said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2023.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press