Weyt-kp. I am Chief Judy Wilson from the Neskonlith Indian Band. I'm the secretary-treasurer for the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, who represent over 100 first nations in B.C., largely those outside of the B.C. treaty process.
The union has supported and advanced the rights, title, and self-determination of our indigenous nations since its inception. Our mandate is to work towards the implementation, exercise, and recognition of our inherent title rights and treaty rights to protect our land and waters, through the exercise and implementation of our own laws and jurisdictions.
I'd like to thank the [Inaudible—Editor] people, on whose ancestral lands and territory we're meeting today, Madam Chair, with the standing committee on claims. We have provided some speaking notes, and we also have a formal submission that will be forthcoming.
Basically, we included some recommendations based on the recognition of title rights and four basic principles that we put forward.
The first is that all claims are human rights issues. This is articulated through international frameworks such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Organization of American States American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The second is that indigenous nations are rights holders. Canada cannot assume underlying title and then issue a new proprietary interest. This assumption reflects the colonial doctrine of discovery, which meant the British crown could unilaterally declare sovereignty over our territories. Instead, the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous nations is required in the development of any of our land.
The third principle is that structural and systemic changes are needed. Canada must shift its idea of sovereignty and federalism to one that is inclusive of our indigenous legal orders, title rights, and treaty rights.
Fourth, all policies and processes must include joint development, reviews, and oversight. We can't say that's happening today, Madam Chair. It's been more unilateral, and continues to be, and we need that change. We need to be full and equal partners in any processes of legislative reform and ongoing oversight.
One exercise I looked at last year for myself was to look at all the reserve lands in Canada, and to find that actually they can fit almost onto Vancouver Island. Our lands and territories in Canada are vast. To take those lands and put us on tiny reserves is a violation of our human rights and displaces our people. That's a very small percentage of the lands that we hold now, and the rest are assumed crown lands. I just wanted to make that illustration.
In 1973, as you are aware, Canada made a unilateral decision to formulate these policies, but also to split comprehensive and specific claims—no one's mentioned that to date—into two separate processes. This created a lot of different barriers for our people. While the claims drag on, our territorial lands and resources are being taken. Trillions of dollars are being removed from our lands as these processes drag on. Our lands are being taken up, destroyed, and degraded.
Canada needs to understand these urgent issues for our indigenous nations. Early in August, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called Canada out on its discriminatory practices of violating the land rights of indigenous peoples. The committee called upon Canada to reform its policies. I was one of the delegate members who travelled over to Geneva to make those presentations, along with other indigenous nations from across Canada.
With its unilateral development and release of its 10 principles, Canada again failed to recognize the independent standing of indigenous peoples in international law.
I wanted to shed a bit of light on B.C. and how our issues are distinct. There's a small number of historical treaties signed in B.C. that are uniquely affected by the failure of the comprehensive and specific claims policies and procedures. The result is the crown governments' wide-scale denial of indigenous title to our territories. Canada still demands that we extinguish our inherent rights, but we cannot disassociate ourselves from the land. We are tied to the land. We are part of the land.
We also have hundreds of historical reserve claims, many of which are stuck in, or rejected by, the current process. Jody would have more statistics on that, and it's a large number here in B.C. As a result of all these injustices, B.C. nations have been at the forefront of land rights policy for decades. We know what would work for claims reforms. We struck a B.C. specific claims working group in 2013 at the union to work for a fair and just resolution to specific claims.
I'll talk a little bit about the comprehensive claims now.
The current policy still continues to demand termination agreements that result in de facto extinguishment of our indigenous title. The policy doesn't reflect the legal and political realities of the landscape. My colleagues mentioned Chilcotin and the UNDRIP and CERD and also the nation-to-nation relationship, but those are still bases for doctrine discovery.
We have several recommendations on the comprehensive claims; they are in your package. These include to work collaboratively with nations and to work collaboratively on any forums or policy to enable the agreement, other than the current process. Another recommendation is to create a nation-to-nation decision-making process.
I'll jump right to specific claims now. I am halfway through my remarks.
The background on the specific claims is as follows. Through UNDRIP we have the right to redress in cases of our lands being taken, used, or damaged without our free, prior, informed consent. The specific claims process must be the mechanism for this redress, but the indigenous nations face barriers at every turn. The process has been plagued with systemic biases and conflict of interest; a number of recent reviews and studies have shown that. Failures of the process affect B.C. nations disproportionately. Also, half of all claims come from B.C., and 53% of rejected claims come from B.C. as well.
I'll skip right to the recommendations.
Recommendation number one is to work collaboratively with indigenous nations to develop a truly independent process. The root of all the biases and barriers has been the conflict of interest mentioned earlier. Canada adjudicates all claims against itself. I can't see anywhere a place where that would ever be fair.
Real reform must begin with the creation of an independent process for claims adjudication, including the initial assessment of how a claim is validated. This needs to change; this is what all of our nations have been calling for, for decades. All previous policies have failed because they have not addressed Canada's conflict of interest.
I want to point out that optionally, the tribunal could play a larger role in assessing and adjudicating claims; however, the final form that this independent process takes needs to be decided collaboratively, with indigenous nations as equal partners. As you know, many of the tribunal decisions have been appealed, and that is a process that shouldn't happen that way.
Recommendation number two is to work collaboratively with indigenous nations to create structures of joint decision-making and oversight.
Recommendation number three is to provide sustainable research funding for this.
There is some summary that we have in our brief. I'll skip that and go right to the questions to the committee.
What is the overall objective and what are the expected outcomes for the study?
Can you provide more specific guidelines for the written submission and the types of evidence that would be most helpful for the study?
How will the findings shape current reform processes? Also, we want to know how the AFN-INAC joint technical working group review of specific claims and the working group of ministers on the review of laws and policies related to indigenous peoples will work together.
Canada has publicly announced that it's working towards this new relationship. How will Canada address the concerns of indigenous nations that the 10 principles continue to perpetuate colonialist doctrines and attitudes?
Those are the questions that we thought would help in moving our formal submission to you, along with some of the dialogue that we'll hear here today. These are all outstanding.
I appreciate the committee's time and effort in bringing this together so that we can start to have a real dialogue on what Canada is doing with all its policies and legislation, on how we're going to move towards a true nation-to-nation relationship based on recognition of the title rights of our people, and on how we can move into the way we will take to reform this and co-exist, as our ancestors said in 1910. We already had a framework laid out on fifty-fifty sharing and also on how we would work together to be great and good in this country.
Thank you, Madam Chair.