As the latest round of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) were held in Montreal, myself, National Chief Perry Bellegarde and a delegation of First Nations leaders, including members of the AFN Chiefs Committee on Economic Development, were there to show support for the Indigenous Peoples Chapter that was introduced on Jan. 23 at the negotiating table.
The Indigenous Peoples Chapter is an initiative by Canada in response to National Chief Bellegarde’s recommendation as part of Canada’s NAFTA Council.
Our involvement in NAFTA sets an important precedent for any future discussions of this kind. Indigenous Peoples and rights are becoming a new area of discussions in national and international trade negotiations, and Canada is putting itself at the forefront of this work.
This is a positive approach, and our involvement will lead to a better outcome for First Nations and all Canadians.
Furthermore, British Columbia First Nations are highly active participants in the forestry industry and we want to ensure we are meaningfully involved in the use and management of forest resources.
Our rights, interests and values must be incorporated into the new Softwood Lumber Agreement.
The National Chief, myself and others are meeting in Montreal with members of the AFN Chiefs Committee on Economic Development to discuss the importance of trade to First Nations economic growth, participation in the labour force and inter-tribal trade.
Chief Bellegarde said it is essential that our rights, our people and our traditional territories are recognized, respected and honoured in these discussions.
The legal landscape on Indigenous rights has changed significantly since NAFTA was first negotiated, including the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
This reality has to inform the NAFTA negotiations and any outcomes.
We were there to reinforce to all parties that they endorsed the UN Declaration, and to remind Canada that regardless of the outcome, they have constitutional obligations to Indigenous Peoples.
National Chief Bellegarde was approached in July 2017 to participate on the NAFTA Council to advise the Minister of Foreign Affairs directly throughout the NAFTA negotiations.
This is the first time an AFN National Chief has been asked by Canada to participate in international trade agreements and sets an important precedent.
AFN Annual General Assembly resolution #32/2017, First Nations Trade Relations, provides direction to the AFN, affirms First Nations inherent right to trade, and mandates efforts to advocate for First Nations economic growth and the development of options to secure greater economic independence.
BC Assembly of