Current Problems

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (43-44)

First Nations leaders voice frustration over slow pace of change since B.C. passed UNDRIP-based rights act

November 2, 2023

Lots of acknowledgment but little implementation, leaders say, at start of gathering with provincial officials

A tall white man is flanked by a number of other men wearing formal attire.
Premier David Eby, third from right, helped open the B.C. Cabinet & First Nations Leaders’ Gathering in Vancouver on Thursday. (Charis Hogg/CBC)

CBC Indigenous: First Nations leaders from across British Columbia are in Vancouver for two days to participate in hundreds of relationship-building meetings with government officials, four years after the province was the first jurisdiction in North America to pass legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Much of the work at the eighth B.C. Cabinet and First Nations Leaders’ Gathering will be to further mandates set out in the November 2019 legislation that is meant to guarantee the rights and social, cultural and economic well-being of the province’s 200,000 First Nations people.

On Thursday, speaking alongside B.C. Premier David Eby to open the gathering, First Nations leaders were critical that despite the success of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act passing, the province has not done enough to bring its policies and laws into harmony with the aims of UNDRIP. 

“We go to a lot of meetings and there’s a lot of acknowledgement, but I now think it’s time for implementation,” said Robert Phillips, a member of the Tsq’escen’ (Canim Lake) First Nation and part of the First Nations Summit executive.

“And we’re not seeing it yet. So to come in here and say it’s all ‘kumbaya,’ that’s not the case. That’s not what’s really happening.”

First Nations leader critical of pace of change in B.C. under provincial Declaration Act

WATCH | First Nations leader calls for an end to platitudes: Duration 2:01

Robert Phillips, a member of the Tsq’escen’ (Canim Lake) First Nation and part of the First Nations Summit executive, says provincial policies in the process of being implemented as a result of 2019’s Declaration Act are getting caught up in government bureaucracy.

Click on the following link to view the video:

It took the province 2½ years after passing the legislation to come up with an action plan that laid out 89 priority actions for implementing the Declaration Act over five years, along with a way to track progress.

An annual report from June said 32 of the 89 actions were completed or underway.

First Nations leaders say delay on conforming to the Declaration Act continues to harm Indigenous people in the province, who are disproportionately affected by poverty, over-represented in the criminal justice system, and often don’t have appropriate economic opportunities in their territories due to B.C.’s colonial past.

‘Action plan on action plan’

Phillips cited decades-long treaty negotiations, impasses over self-determination regarding issues like housing and healthcare, along with heritage and conservation initiatives as examples of policies that aren’t meeting the mandate of the Declaration Act because they’re getting caught up in government bureaucracy.

“We can’t have an action plan on an action plan,” he said.

Phillips spoke alongside Eby, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, Regional Chief Terry Teegee from the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations and Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin.

Since he took office in November 2022, Eby has strung together a series of announcements over treaty agreements addressing land rights and economic partnerships.

On Thursday morning, in opening the summit, he acknowledged the frustrations raised by those such as Phillips over the pace of having the province move forward in lock-step with nations in provincial governance. “I can certainly empathize with the sense of urgency that people feel around the issues of First Nations in communities across the province,” he said. “The meetings we are having here today do result in positive actions in communities across the province.”

Eby said elected leaders must ensure their expectations about important programs go “all the way through the public service.”

B.C. premier says his government is listening to First Nations and collaborating on meaningful policy change

WATCH | B.C. premier responds to First Nations’ frustrations over implementing Declaration Act: Duration 2:01

David Eby addressed First Nations’ frustrations of trying to change attitudes, relationships and laws in the province at the opening news conference of the eighth B.C. Cabinet and First Nations Leaders’ Gathering, underway in Vancouver.

Click on the following link to view the video:

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said despite the onerous and oftentimes complicated approach to move forward with UNDRIP, he’s proud of nations’ solidarity as they work on the issues they and the province are facing.

“These are indeed exciting times that 20 years ago I would have never believed possible,” Phillip said.


Chad Pawson

Chad Pawson is a CBC News reporter in Vancouver. You can contact him at