The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act enshrines in law B.C.’s commitment to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration). The UN Declaration affirms Indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination and self-government. It also recognizes rights related to water shared by Indigenous peoples worldwide. For example, Article 25 of the UN Declaration states that:
Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.
Reconciliation is a cornerstone to developing the Watershed Security Strategy and Fund.
First Nations in British Columbia
B.C. overlaps the traditional territories of over 200 First Nations. First Nations have a unique constitutional status in B.C. as holders of established Aboriginal rights and treaty rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act. Many Aboriginal rights are associated with fresh water, such as the rights to fish, hunt, gather and engage in cultural practices.
The degradation of fresh water and aquatic ecosystems can compromise First Nations’ ability to practice their Aboriginal rights. Government is working with Indigenous partners to jointly build an enduring engagement and collaboration process that will be critical for the Watershed Security Strategy to be a success.
Other Indigenous Peoples in British Columbia
Inuit and Métis relationships to the land in B.C. is more recent in history. There are approximately 90,000 Métis people in B.C. and estimated 20,000 of which are associated with 38 Métis chartered communities. Just over 1,500 Inuit peoples also reside in B.C.
Many Indigenous peoples also now live off-reserve in urban areas, and Indigenous youth are the fastest-growing demographic in B.C. To support alignment with the UN Declaration, the Province is interested in learning how to better engage Métis, Inuit, urban Indigenous peoples, and Indigenous youth on issues related to watershed security.
Self-determination and water
The Province is exploring opportunities to advance co-governance and management of water with First Nations. This is occurring through a diverse range of government-to-government agreements, partnerships, and treaty processes. This also means involving B.C. businesses, industry, environmental and stewardship organizations, and local governments in the process of building collaborative decision making.
The work of reconciliation and self-determination takes time. B.C. has been taking a collaborative approach to implementing its commitments under the Declaration Act and is committed to developing the Watershed Security Strategy and Fund in collaboration and consultation with Indigenous peoples.