• Sep 20, 2023
  • Insights

The Opportunity: Section 3 of DRIPA and Economic Reconciliation

Written by Katie Shaw.

There is momentum building across the business community, seeking a stronger understanding on how to participate and meaningfully support the economic potential of Indigenous communities through reconciliation. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released its calls to action. The actions remain slow to advance, despite much support and willingness by many. Canada remains at the “truth stage” as a nation — building our understanding and capacity to understand the reality of our fraught colonial history as a country and move forward in a respectful and productive manner.

One of these truths is related to systemic barriers created by our government systems and the historical regulations that hinder our ability to make the right changes to move forward.  Colonial systems have an opportunity today to restructure their decision making and investment systems so that Indigenous peoples, communities and governments can participate, equally, in all aspects of economic activity. Deconstructing these systems of programs for Indigenous communities is integral to achieving more equitable economic opportunity. The key here is for instead of by. The real change will come when Indigenous peoples themselves are in control of the resources. Without access to funds and programming genuinely co-developed by Indigenous peoples and their leadership, the transition to self-determination over economic opportunity cannot be achieved. It must be more than a seat at the table, it needs to include a decision-making voice as well.

Creating new ways of building economic reconciliation are starting to emerge. In 2019, Ridley Terminals Inc. announced a new ownership group which included the Lax Kw’alaam Band and the Metlakatla First Nation. The announcement highlighted that the nations had a significant share in the new ownership model and enabled stronger autonomy leading the economic future of its band members. Chief Councillor Harold Leighton of the Metlakatla First Nation characterized the deal as positioning the nations as a “major economic force” and focused on the partnership agreement including principles of sustainable ecological based resource management.

In April, the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations came to an agreement with the provincial government to purchase the Jericho Lands for the purpose of developing a new urban neighbourhood. The agreement was reached after an extensive consultation process with the First Nations and enabled the group, known as the MST Partnership, to begin a meaningful community consultation process with the City of Vancouver on the plans to develop the site. The Jericho project is only one piece of the plan; the First Nations plan to build tens of thousands of homes on sites in and around the Lower Mainland of B.C., both as joint partnerships and independently.  

British Columbia is uniquely positioned to re-think the way government can combine the following efforts to ensure they are successfully activated in collaboration: a revised economic strategy based on Marianne Mazzucato’s economic growth theory and the 2018 legislation called the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA). The B.C. government created their economic plan, StrongerBC using Mazzucato’s theory and DRIPA is an act that requires the province to align all laws, policies and programs to ensure that the full and effective participation of Indigenous peoples is included in all matters that concern them. The legislation confirms their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development.

Mazzucato’s theory hinges on the assertion that governments can foster innovation, job creation and economic development by investing public dollars with a focus on value creation – investing capital with purpose in the belief that government funds will de-risk private and commercial capital. Considered a leftist theory, the province anchored the approach in its missions for clean and inclusive growth and continues today to frame its economic policy with this theory.

There is opportunity to integrate the refreshed economic strategy with the commitments in DRIPA in tangible ways – and using specific levers – like Section 3 of the Act to require inclusion of Indigenous peoples and leadership in the creation of economic investments that are driven by and for Indigenous peoples themselves. Section 3 of DRIPA which requires government to align laws with the legislation will ultimately require a new process by which policy and legislation are developed and potentially identified. The guidance maps out the ways in which government’s colonial systems should now establish clear and transparent ways in which Indigenous peoples should directly influence and co-create the provincial laws, policies, and practices as req­­uired under the Act. It is as important how you respond to a priority as it is how you define the priority. Indigenous peoples should have clear and consistent opportunities to identify what new investments need to be prioritized for government to build off – including the creation of access to non-diluted capital for investment for Indigenous peoples. Applying criteria to access to equity that is not co-developed or led by Indigenous peoples themselves weakens economic reconciliation.

Combining these two levers – DRIPA and the StrongerBC foundations – represents an unprecedented entry point for real reconciliation through government leadership. The province has the legislative framework in place which requires real, Indigenous co-development and co-creation. It has also adopted – publicly – a new economic growth theory whereby direct investment from the province is to be utilized as a de-risking partner to support greater access to non-diluted and diluted equity from the private and commercial sectors. Through this type of leadership, government can help provide the necessary conditions that allow industry and investors to restructure their approaches to economic reconciliation.

The challenge is that government systems have been slow to change. It will take time, but it will also require bold leadership. Through DRIPA and a refined economic theory driving investments, there are enough foundational and legislative commitments in place to require new investment and funding structures from the government’s Treasury Board. That body holds immense responsibility for the allocation of public dollars and through time has been structured to reinforce the colonial decision making structures that underpin all levels of government in Canada. As one of the most influential decision makers in government, it decides how investments are constructed, presented and assessed for elected decision makers and holds the purse strings that either reinforce or undermine a government mandate.

One integrated entry point in B.C. is the new government backed strategic investment fund, InBC, with $500 million and a mandate to invest in companies and venture funds that align with their impact objectives, founded in a triple bottom line approach (people, planet, profit). InBC is currently finalizing its first round of funding selections. Imagine the potential of restructuring access to this capital with the co-development foundations embedded in Section 3 of DRIPA.

Transformational change requires focused political leadership and decision-making – it also requires being honest – standing in the truth – about what our systems uphold and what they undermine. Government’s ability to meet the opportunity in front of them will also requires an inspired reconfiguration and capacity building within the public sector, starting with how it defines problems, opportunities, and what is valued as the outcome.

British Columbians go to the polls in less than fourteen months and the BC NDP will table their final budget in February 2024. How much progress we make on economic reconciliation remains to be seen, just as the fulfillment of our shared anticipation for government and major political parties’ adherence to truth and reconciliation pledges, aimed at empowering Indigenous communities to pursue their unique economic aspirations, awaits confirmation.