Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen is making a strong push to get longstanding First Nations concerns onto the provincial agenda.
Olsen’s introduction of a private member’s bill on Thursday is just the first volley in what’s anticipated to be a long and complicated process. The B.C. Green Party spokesperson for the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation aims to secure sacred burial grounds and heritage sites with the proposed First Nations Heritage Protection and Conservation Act being one tool in that effort.
“I’m introducing this bill in order to move us forwards toward remedying the unequal treatment of First Nations heritage sites and non-Indigenous sites. Because what is critical is that we develop a solution,” Olsen told the legislative assembly. “I hope that we will debate and discuss this bill in this House. Perhaps we could send it to the Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, of which I am a proud part. I hope that it will lead to First Nations’ sacred sites finally having the same respect and protection [as non-Indigenous people] they have long been denied.”
Olsen added that his experience in protesting against a private owner’s plans to build over burial cairns on Salt Spring’s Grace Islet is one reason he’s championing the bill. The islet was eventually purchased by the province at a cost of $5.45 million after construction had begun.
“The Grace Islet case, in which the province finally purchased land to protect First Nations grave sites of our ancestors from destruction, illustrates what happens when we do not have a solution to this problem, and instead government takes a piecemeal approach,” Olsen said.
Olsen based his private member’s bill on one that Maurine Karagianis, the former NDP MLA for Esquimalt-Royal Roads, introduced without success six times under the BC Liberal government. Under her formulation, the bill would amend the Heritage Conservation Act to ensure the minister responsible had to act if a First Nation entered concerns about any construction project.
For more on this story, see the Nov. 1, 2017 issue of the Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.