By Saul Joseph and Harkeerit Shoker
On October 25, 2022, Vancouver became the first city in Canada to officially adopt a strategy (Strategy) for the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) at the municipal level.
On February 26, 2013, Vancouver City Council (Council) passed a motion to approve UNDRIP. On March 9, 2021, Council passed a motion to establish a UNDRIP Task Force comprised of members of Council, Musqueam Indian Band, Squamish Nation and Tsleil-Waututh Nation (collectively, the MST Nations ).
The task force was created based on a government-to-government relationship through which MST nations worked with city officials to develop recommendations on how Vancouver can implement UNDRIP as a as a framework for fostering reconciliation and Indigenous relationships.
The City had approved a number of priority actions on June 7, 2022, including prioritizing MST Nations participation in procurement projects and mandating cultural competency and anti-racism training for employees. from the city. The working group, however, further outlined 79 calls to action to ensure the successful implementation of UNDRIP by the municipality, focusing on indigenous leadership, enabling the free, prior and informed consent of nations and addressing the structural and legal impacts of colonialism. . These calls to action include:
- Social, cultural and economic well-being through:
- Increased access to public goods and services, such as water rights on reserve lands and affordable housing
- Cultural revitalization focused in part on restoration and access to cultural sites
- Economic well-being by creating economic partnerships and revenue sharing agreements
- Ending Indigenous-specific racism, including by addressing:
- Environmental racism through conducting reviews of unsafe industrial projects from the perspective of Indigenous human rights and Indigenous engagement in environmental initiatives
- Leases, housing and land in working with MST Nations on Vancouver Housing Strategy
- The provision of services, such as access to health care and other institutions while receiving culturally appropriate and safe services
- Policing by working with the Vancouver Police Department to integrate UNDRIP into its operations, such as dispatching mental health professionals to respond to situations that do not require police intervention
- Self-determination and the inherent right of self-government, including:
- Revenue sharing through property taxes, promoter fees, and special event and filming fees
- Disposition of city-owned lands to MST nations by identifying culturally, economically, and socially significant lands to be repatriated
- Shared decision-making by allowing MST Nations to participate in City projects and plans by requiring genuine free, prior and informed consent from Nations
- Inclusion of Nations representatives on boards, including Metro Vancouver Board and Vancouver Park Board
- Rights and Title of Indigenous Peoples through:
- Inclusion of Indigenous legal traditions by identifying ways for elected officials, municipal staff and the public to learn about Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh laws and the impact of colonialism on these laws
- Supporting cultural practices and returning to the land by identifying ways to support the practice of traditions and supporting language revitalization
- Creation of institutions for Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh members to learn traditional customs by supporting the establishment of cultural and healing centers
- Participation and voice of diverse Indigenous populations living in the city by creating ways for Indigenous peoples to be represented in decisions that impact their lives, such as quality of life and access to services
In pursuing next steps now that the strategy has been adopted, the City will determine how the Calls to Action will be implemented in consultation with STD Nations and urban Indigenous populations. An intergovernmental UNDRIP committee jointly governed by the city, as well as the MST nations, will also lead the charge to push the recommendations forward and monitor their progress.
Vancouver was one of the first local governments to endorse UNDRIP and is once again leading the way in implementing UNDRIP. Since the promulgation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Actlocal governments across BC have been reconsidering their relationships with surrounding nations and what the implications of UNDRIP might be for municipalities.
The Strategy may prove to be a useful tool for other local governments to model their approaches to implementing UNDRIP. There is now an opportunity for local governments to engage early, build relationships and garner the goodwill of nations in tackling the implementation of UNDRIP. Over time, municipal legislation will be changed to comply with UNDRIP and local governments will be forced to adapt. The benefits of early adoption are many and we expect other local governments to choose to start discussions early and move the reconciliation process forward using the UNDRIP and the Strategy as a framework.