The Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation has announced new funding to support First Nations’ participation implementing the Declaration Act.
"Across government, engagement is actively underway with First Nations on the Declaration Act," said Premier David Eby on April 27. "We have heard directly from nations on the vital need for financial resources to support consultation and co-operation on action plan items and legislative transformation."
The Declaration Act Engagement Fund will help First Nations offset costs associated with provincial engagement on the implementation of the Declaration Act. The flexible fund could support staffing, training, community-level meetings and other resources required to enhance government-to-government work.
British Columbia became the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on Nov. 28, 2019, when the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act was passed.
On March 31, 2022, B.C. released the Declaration Act Action Plan, which includes 89 tangible, achievable cross-government actions in the areas of self-determination and self-government, rights and title, ending anti-Indigenous racism, and enhancing social, cultural and economic well-being.
According to the provincial government, the Declaration Act Engagement Fund will help support First Nations' involvement in efforts to implement the Declaration Act Action Plan and align provincial laws with the UN declaration, as required under the provincial legislation that was passed in 2019.
The one-time $200-million fund will be administered by the Indigenous-led New Relationship Trust and be available to all First Nations in B.C.
"The Declaration Act Engagement Fund will create flexibility for First Nations to engage with the province in ways that respond to the priorities and unique needs of their communities," said Murray Rankin, minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation and minister responsible for the Declaration Act Secretariat. "This new funding for all First Nations in B.C. supports our vision of a better province - one where First Nations can thrive through the full enjoyment and exercise of their inherent rights."
In the past Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, has criticized the government’s concept of what has passed as engagement with First Nations. But he believes that this fund with help to progress relations.
"For decades, governments have dropped onerous requests on First Nations for engagement, consultation and input in highly complex legal, regulatory and policy issues, often with no advanced warning and little time to respond,” stated Phillip. “Although these issues directly and disproportionately impacted our people, land and futures, these 'opportunities' to provide input did not consider the extremely limited capacity of and immense demands on First Nations, and no response was often interpreted as approval. This announcement is undoubtedly a positive and foundational step in the implementation of the UN Declaration, but I call on Premier Eby to ensure that this funding is long-term, flexible and meets the needs of all First Nations in B.C."
"The implementation of the Declaration Act Action Plan is a long-haul journey and the barriers to transition onto that path are high for most First Nations, so we commend the Province of B.C. for reconsidering the role they play in empowering First Nations to meaningfully engage with them on critical aspects of the action plan," said Walter Schneider, CEO of the New Relationship Trust.
"Today, we celebrate the leadership of the provincial government by announcing much-needed resources for Tseshaht First Nation, and other nations, to be meaningfully and respectfully engaged in implementing the UN Declaration in B.C.,” said Tseshaht Chief Councillor Ken Watts. “Kleco to all those past and present who made today a reality, and Tseshaht wishes to remind us all that we are doing this important work for future generations."