“Water is our most precious resource” Mary Polak, BC Environment Minister
“Water is our life-source” Chief Judy Wilson, Neskonlith/Secwepemc Nation
Please support this letter campaign by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs regarding the failure of the province to address Indigenous title in development of the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) and in on-going development of regulations for WSA.
During the Water Act Modernization process the province was repeatedly and consistently warned by First Nations and Aboriginal organizations that the process failed to meet the constitutional duty to consult. That failure remained unaddressed right up to the Water Sustainability Act being passed in the Legislature early in 2014.
Since that time we have seen multiple examples of courts and the BC Environmental Appeal Board finding in favour of First Nations, providing what should be very clear direction to government on their responsibilities.
“it represents a reiteration of established law regarding Aboriginal title that has been developed over decades.” – Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia, 2014 SCC 44
“Aboriginal groups may sue private parties for impacts to asserted Aboriginal rights and title without first having to prove those rights.” – Saik’uz First Nation and Stellat’en First Nation v Rio Tinto Alcan Inc, 2015 BCCA 154
“The Court held that the province did not meaningfully consult with the Fort Nelson First Nation in good faith” – Fort Nelson First Nation v. British Columbia (Environmental Assessment Office), 2015 BCSC 1180,
“The panel finds that the licence should be reversed because it is fundamentally flawed in concept and operation,” – B.C. Environmental Appeal Board Decision No. 2012-WAT-013(c) [Nexen water licence]
Yet in the on-going development of regulations for the Water Sustainability Act the province persists in ignoring Indigenous title, setting the stage for further conflicts. Rather than consult meaningfully with First Nations the province has proceeded to develop regulations and then taken those regulations to First Nations in information sessions that the province attempts to call government to government consultation.
There have been many good words about reconciliation in Canada in recent years. The Water Sustainability Act represents an opportunity to put those good words into action. British Columbians need to inform their government that they expect to be represented with integrity, and that while reconciliation is complex we expect our government to take up the task. Reconciliation must be woven into the day to day practices of governing if we are achieve just relationships and certainty for all parties in BC.
See the UBCIC letter here to add your voice.