Ottawa’s July 14 announcement of 10 principles to guide government’s relations with Indigenous peoples is being hailed by shíshálh Nation as potentially a major breakthrough.
“The principles appear to be a doorway for finally moving to the next, and fundamental phase, of full implementation of our title and rights,” Chief Warren Paull said in a statement released on the day of the announcement.
The principles are “rooted” in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Section 35 of the Constitution, committing Ottawa to the “recognition and implementation of [Indigenous peoples’] right to self-determination, including the inherent right of self-government.”
They also promise “free, prior and informed consent” when the government takes actions affecting Indigenous rights, lands, territories and resources, and call for a “fairer fiscal relationship” that could take the form of new tax arrangements and new approaches to calculating federal transfers.
Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who released the document, said the principles “affirm recognition of Indigenous peoples and their rights as the necessary starting point for the Crown to engage in partnership with Indigenous peoples to develop new Indigenous-Crown relations, and as the foundation for transforming laws, policies and operational practices.”
In an interview Monday, Chief Paull said the 10 principles appear to “give us everything that we were talking about way back in the day, but they weren’t willing to look at.”
The movement on the part of Ottawa, he added, reflect the gains made by landmark court decisions, culminating in the Tsilhqot’in decision on aboriginal title in 2014.
Paull said his council feels that “the time is right” for the federal government to become an active participant in negotiations with the shíshálh.
“We’ve been at the table with the province, on and off, for a long, long while, but when you have conversations with the province it only goes so far and they say ‘that’s not our mandate, that’s not our responsibility.’ So that ends up being the federal government,” he said.
“It’s a matter of getting all the players to the table at the same time to get the maximum benefit out of it.”
The band’s most pressing concerns right now, he said, are health and education.
Acknowledging that the federal Liberals have been “scrambling a bit” on Indigenous issues, Paull said he’s willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, at least for the short term. “If I don’t see nothing by next year at this time, then I’ll be a little concerned,” he said.