Proposed Forestry Bill Disrespects Indigenous Rights
Katrine Conroy, the BC Minister of Forests, introduced a bill on October 20, 2021, to reshape forest management in this province. She says the proposed changes align forestry legislation with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. I quickly took to my computer to read between the lines of Bill 23 – 2021 -The Forests Statutes Amendment Act, and I discovered some key things of concern regarding Indigenous rights.
Does the bill include the need for a chief forester to communicate with the Indigenous authorities affected? Yes, it does. Does the Indigenous authority get to have their concerns heard? Yes, they do. Is there a requirement for dispute resolution if necessary? Yes, there is. So, what might be the problem? The problem is Part 1.1 / Division 1- Forest Landscape Plan / 2.26 Dispute Resolution Facilitation.
There is an entire process laid out for co-operation, consent, and concerns from the Indigenous authority and the public; and it all sounds good up to and including the potential facilitation of a dispute resolution. After the resolution process, the facilitator gives a report and in comes clause 7, “A report of a facilitator does not limit the power of the chief forester in respect of the decision or matter that is the subject of the report.”
Wait, what?! Does this mean the authorized Indigenous group goes through this entire process up to the point of mediation, and then the chief forester can go ahead and make their own decisions anyway? Oh wait, perhaps the solution can be found in clause 9, “this does not limit the right of the Indigenous governing body to take it to court” The good old If-you-don’t-like-it-take-it-to-Court card. Hmmm, that doesn’t sound too hopeful to me; and meanwhile the trees would be falling.
Further along in the Bill, in clause 2.38 we find that the chief forester can submit their plan to the Minister for approval as long has they can show they have made ‘reasonable efforts’ to engage with Indigenous nations, and that they have made the plan public. The results of those ‘reasonable efforts’ are apparently irrelevant so long as they made the effort. If from there the Minister requests an amendment to the plan, it does not have to go back to the Indigenous nation or to the public to be a done deal.
There is another question at the top of my mind, for which there has been much discrepancy – who are the ‘authorized Indigenous bodies’ that the BC government shall choose to do this forestry business with? Elected chiefs and councils only have jurisdiction within the boundaries of the reserve that they are elected to serve, and yet many agreements are made with them about land outside of that jurisdiction, sometimes without the consultation or consent of some of the nation’s members.
Let’s take Ada’istx for example, also known as Fairy Creek. Premier Horgan has been very proud to say that he is honoring Indigenous land rights and allowing the Pacheedaht nation to come to its own decisions. And yet, a Revenue Sharing Agreement was signed between British Columbia and the elected council, in February, 2021. Clause 11.1 of that agreement states, “Pacheedaht First Nation agrees it will not support or participate in any acts that frustrate, delay, stop or otherwise impede or interfere with provincially authorized forest activities.” And clause 11.2 says that if any of their people take action that is inconsistent with the agreement the elected council must support British Columbia” That is not neutral. That is not respectful. That is not equal. And that is only one small example in this big, beautiful province.
Our leaders are too often using this power-imbalanced paper-signing to allow and benefit from the continued extraction and destruction on unceded lands, while other nation members, elders, traditional chiefs, and allies are left to fight against the forces of RCMP and courts, that they might save their sacred places, their hunting grounds, their forests of medicines, their clean rivers, their rights, their ways, and now our very planet.
Having seen this clause, in the new bill, regarding the decision-making power of the chief forester and the Minister, I must say that my trust is low and I can only hope that we who care can turn this ship around and demand that things be altered and brought in line with the real intentions of DRIPA.