The Supreme Court of Canada rendered its Tsilhqot’in Nation decision in which it declared 1,900 square km of British Columbia’s interior as Aboriginal Title land
As Canada begins celebrating its 150th anniversary, reconciliation continues to grow as a dominant theme of our national conversation. Lots of constructive and positive work is taking place, as awareness and understanding of our true history, and the challenges of our collective future, evolves.
One theme that constantly runs through the reconciliation conversation is that it will take time, and there are no easy answers or shortcuts.
It is certainly true that it is hard work and will require new thinking and action by governments, communities and individuals across the country.
However, any assumption that reconciliation is inevitably a slow process must be challenged. While certainly the full transformations reconciliation requires will undoubtedly take the efforts of generations — critical, bold, and significant steps on the path of reconciliation can and must be urgently taken.
Delay only makes reconciliation that much harder. It prolongs the specific suffering of countless children and families. It extends the entrenchment of social disparities and makes them harder to overcome. It facilitates the continuance of discrimination at all levels. It delays the design and implementation of structures and processes attuned to the needs of a contemporary, plural, and more just society. And it further deepens and risks escalation of conflict.
One illustration of the risk of delay is what has transpired in British Columbia over the last 30 months.
On June 26, 2014 — 30 months ago — the Supreme Court of Canada rendered its Tsilhqot’in Nation decision in which it declared 1,900 square km of British Columbia’s interior as Aboriginal Title land.
This was a moment of rupture — a break from the entrenched pattern of 148 years of Canadian history. For the first time ever, specific lands in this country were recognized as being the title lands of an indigenous people. It was an act of recognition that had no precedent against a history of consistent denial.
The legitimate and proper expectation after Tsilhqot’in Nation was that significant change would now have to occur — and fast — and that all British Columbians, indigenous and non-indigenous would have to grapple in new and more intense ways with how to forge a common social and economic future.
A reason for this is that Tsilhqot’in Nation confirmed the inevitable and indivisible intersection of indigenous rights and the future of the economy. Through multiple statements — confirming the standard of indigenous consent, ruling that title is territorial in nature, and ordering that the full economic interest in title land belongs to the indigenous titleholder — the court intimately connected the fulfilment of the imperatives of section 35 of the Constitution with the work of continuing to build an ever more prosperous economy for all British Columbians and Canadians.
Yet, 30 months later little action has been taken. While national conversation has grown, not many British Columbians understand how significant the Tsilhqot’in Nation decision is to how we build our communities, protect our environment, create jobs, or educate our children. At the same time, the patterns of conduct between Crown and First Nation governments remain largely as they have been — slow, expensive, and more often than not, ineffective. No significant shifts in law or policy regarding recognition of Aboriginal Title and Rights have broken through, and we are yet to see substantively new approaches to decision-making or agreements, or a shift in economic relations.
The effect of this delay is undeniable. As 2017 begins we are on the precipice of significant intensification of conflict and uncertainty — in the courts and on the ground — arising from the intersection of indigenous rights and economic growth. Pipeline issues alone appear likely the launch the largest and most widespread protest and civil unrest in British Columbia in generations.
Many people will say 30 months is too short a time period to reasonably expect real change. They are wrong. Throughout history, and in each of our lives, amazing, remarkable things happen in 30 months.
30 months was the period of time between Pearl Harbour and D-Day that saw a transformation in the future course of humanity.
30 months is the remarkable time in life from being an infant to a toddler where one learns speech, to express creativity, and to form friendships with others.
30 months was the duration between the ‘Famous Five’ petitioning to challenge the interpretation that females could not be appointed to the senate because they were not “persons” to Cairine Wilson being appointed as the first female senator in Canadian history.
30 months is plenty of time to make significant strides in reconciliation. 30 months from now will be the fifth anniversary of Tsilhqot’in Nation. We cannot afford to spend our 150th anniversary year, and the next 30 months, as we have the past 30.
Roshan Danesh is a lawyer, conflict resolution innovator, and educator whose areas of work, teaching, and writing include international peace-building, constitutional law, indigenous rights, and inter-ethnic and inter-religious dialogue.