If the provincial Liberals launch a wider consultation process surrounding their proposed Recognition and Reconciliation Act, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs president Stewart Phillip said today the First Nations community must be involved. "I guess the short answer is no," said Grand Chief Phillip when asked on Public Eye Radio if he would oppose such a consultation process. "Again, I have no idea what position the BC Liberals will take in the event that they prevail in this election and we get back to dealing with this issue. I think it should be understood - and no doubt it is - that there is a tremendous amount of time and effort and work that has went into this. And it was a joint undertaking. And I would suspect that, if the province were to engage in a wider consultation, that I would think in some way we would be involved in that process also."
That being said, though, Grand Chief Phillip stated, "There are many decision that government takes, as we both know, without a lot of public hair-pulling and consultation. And people generally expect that from government. And, in the vast majority of cases, nobody really takes much notice of it. We find it a bit frustrating that when it comes to aboriginal issues, First Nations issues there's that demand for the type of scrutiny that some people would like to see."
So why is there a greater demand for scrutiny surrounding aboriginal issues? "I think it's because, unfortunately, the poverty - the disgraceful, appalling condition of poverty in our communities has become institutionalized. And by that I mean that, generally speaking, Canadians view aboriginal people and certainly the poverty within our communities as something that has always been there and will always be there. And the underlying attitude is, 'Well, of course it's always going to be like that. After all, they're First Nations people, they're aboriginal people.' So, when it comes to a quantum step forward - a paradigm shift - many people find that not to square with their attitudes toward our people. And that's unfortunate," Grand Chief Phillip responded.
"What people need to understand is the move to legislative reform, the move toward a Recognition and Reconciliation Act will benefit all British Columbians by virtue of lifting the dark cloud of uncertainty over the lands and resources of this province and provide an opportunity to us as indigenous people to come full circle and return to the relationship of economic interdependence which was the relationship we enjoyed at the point of contact when the first settlers arrived."
But couldn't it also be that some British Columbians fear that such legislation could put them at a disadvantage in comparison to First Nations peoples? "I find that frustrating that they're concerned about being disadvantaged and whatnot whereby our entire history for the last 150 years has been exactly that. We have been greatly disadvantaged. We have been economically marginalized by design of legislation and the entire colonial experience. And that is why we have advanced this struggle that's spanned over 100 years. And we pretty much grew up inside the court system of this country."
"And now at long last we have an opportunity to deal with this historically outstanding issue in a way that will benefit all people. And that's why I believe there is a general understand that these developments and these initiatives are long overdue and it will bring a greater level of harmony and peaceful co-existence but, more importantly, as I stated earlier a relationship based on economic interdependence. I've heard in my travels at one economic conference that a rising tide carries all boats. So it'll be good for everyone."