Rankin’s role in Wet’suwet’en negotiations will inform his work as Indigenous relations minister

By Shannon Waters December 17, 2020

Putting “meat on the bones” of B.C.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act is the top priority for the province’s newly minted Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister, Murray Rankin.

Rankin’s mandate letter tasks him with crafting a dedicated secretariat to ensure provincial policies and legislation — both existing and future — are consistent with the United Nations declaration.

His recommendations on the UNDRIP Secretariat are due to cabinet by the end of 2021. He told BC Today he will “co-develop the process” with input from both public servants and Indigenous communities over the coming months.

“This is a machinery of government issue,” Rankin said in an interview. “How is it going to have the biggest impact? That’s something for which I need expert advice. But I also need expert advice from the Indigenous community to make sure that the enterprise works for them.”

Rankin said his approach will be informed by his experiences working as a liaison for the province during negotiations on a new reconciliation agreement with the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

“I learned a great deal about the need to involve all sides of every argument,” Rankin said of his time working on the issue. “I can’t overemphasize the importance of relationships and having the ability to call up an individual when there’s a bump in the road and talk it through.”

Complex issues can’t just be hashed out “at the negotiating table with the lawyers and the chiefs,” Rankin said of reconciliation agreements — officials and policy makers must also spend time “getting a lay of the land and getting an understanding of the individuals engaged.” Rankin said he “really enjoyed” that aspect of his time working with the Wet’suwet’en on behalf of the province.

While Rankin, like Premier John Horgan, maintains that implementing the Declaration Act will not give Indigenous people a veto over development projects on their territory, the minister did acknowledge that some Indigenous people are understandably skeptical of how the law’s “free, prior and informed consent” clause will work in practice.

“In my experience, First Nations are very, very appropriately concerned about environmental protection and ensuring that their rights are upheld as development occurs,” he said. “I don’t find that surprising.”

The minister also highlighted that the hundreds of First Nations in B.C. are not a homogenous block on any issue, including development.

“There are some who are more pro development and some that are less pro development,” Rankin said. “The earlier on in the development process that you can engage with First Nations, the more likely that you can ensure that there is collaboration and respect.”