In its final meeting on Tuesday before the new slate of councillors are inaugurated on November 7, Vancouver City Council approved the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), one of the first instances in the world of a municipality working with First Nations to establish such a reconciliation framework.

The United Nations Declaration is one of the most comprehensive international instruments when it comes to the rights of Indigenous people, establishing "a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, and well-being of the Indigenous peoples of the world and it elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms as they apply to the specific situation of indigenous peoples," the United Nations says.

UNDRIP was originally passed by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2007, with 143 states voting in favor of it. Quite notably at the time, Canada was actually one of four states that voted against it, along with the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. At the time, the Canadian government reportedly felt that, among other things, some of the wording in the Declaration was too broad and could bring forth a wave of previously-settled land claims being re-opened.

The Government of Canada has since reversed course, however, passing legislation to implement UNDRIP in 2021, after the Province of British Columbia did so in 2019.

In March 2021, Vancouver City Council unanimously passed a motion to create a task force that would partner with the Musqueam Indian Band, Squamish Nation, and Tsleil-Waututh Nation to develop the UNDRIP strategy for the City of Vancouver and identify action items that focused on the four overarching themes of BC's UNDRIP strategy: social cultural, and economic well-being; ending Indigenous-specific racism and discrimination; self-determination and inherent right to self-government; and rights and title of Indigenous people.

UNDRIP Vancouver: Land, Leasing, Housing

The task force returned with a report including 79 action items endorsed by the council of all three Nations. The full report can be found here, but here's what it outlines as it relates to land, leasing, and housing.

"The colonial appropriation and occupation of Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh territories, as well as Indigenous territories across the continent, have directly and unequivocally led to loss of land base, homes, housing, and community for Indigenous Peoples," the task force said. "Unceded lands continue to be occupied, leased, and developed without the consent or involvement of Indigenous rights holders. It is therefore all the more unacceptable that Indigenous people in Vancouver are disproportionately homeless and unsheltered on Indigenous land."

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The task force said that there needs to be policies and programs for the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh to access housing on lands beyond reserve lands, as there is limited amounts of housing on reserve land.

"Currently, Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh are working to address housing supply and affordability through their own developments," they said. "The City should seek opportunities to support and prioritize Nation-led housing initiatives and work with the Nations to develop housing strategies which are aligned with their definitions of affordability and wellness, and their ways of addressing homelessness."

To that end, the UNDRIP task force recommended the City of Vancouver do the following:

  • Work with Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh on the City’s housing strategy, to adopt more culturally-informed approaches to affordability, homelessness, community services, etc. and develop protocols and procedures to support unhoused populations to avoid evictions and further displacement;
  • Identify policy options to support Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh-led housing affordability projects that occur on reserves. This should include undisputed access to municipal services for reduced/minimal fees;
  • Prioritize housing for Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh members in the City (beyond reserve lands) with a range of housing options, with the Nations defining the terms of what is "affordable". Options may include:
    • Incorporating Public Benefit Strategies within community planning processes to reserve some housing for Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh people in new builds;
    • Supporting the creation of Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh housing advocates, liaisons, and outreach services to help members access services and dispute resolution supports;
    • Ensuring that property managers and others providing housing and services to Indigenous people are trained in cultural safety;
    • Making future nominal, long-term affordable housing ground leases available exclusively for Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh-led organizations and non-profits. Consider transfer of title to the tenants;
    • Tenanting a portion of units in housing projects developed on City land for Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh and the diverse Indigenous populations living in the city;
  • Work with urban Indigenous organizations and residents to address the need for safe, healthy, accessible, affordable and climate resilient housing for Indigenous people in Vancouver, ensuring secondary housing needs including, but not limited to, daycares and healthcare are accessible from their locations;
  • For institutions such as private schools who lease land from the City, make lease renewal conditional on operational requirements such as:
    • Dedicated spaces for Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh students, Nation programs at the school;
    • Cultural safety programs/supports for staff and school community to ensure students feel safe attending such schools;
    • Reconciliation curricula sharing an understanding of Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh and their relationships with the land and the people.
  • Identify ways to ensure Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh are informed about leases and have input on what is occurring on the land;
  • Work with Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh to co-develop a plan for City land transfers (e.g., before transferring land for any purpose).

UNDRIP Vancouver: Next Steps

Now, the City of Vancouver will determine what is required to implement each of the action items and then a "new intergovernmental committee" will work to implement them.

The task force was led by a "steering committee" that included three councillors from each of the three First Nations and four councillors from the City of Vancouver. Representing the City of Vancouver was Jean Swanson, Melissa De Genova, Adriane Carr, and Christine Boyle. Swanson and De Genova lost in their re-election campaigns, while Carr and Boyle retained their seats in City Council.

"The 79 actions within this UNDRIP Strategy will strengthen Indigenous rights, create new pathways for government-to-government relationships, and improve life for Indigenous people in Vancouver," said Councillor Boyle, who also served as the task force's Co-Chair. "It has been an honour to do this work alongside Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh leaders, and I look forward to continuing it in the service of current and future generations on these lands."

The task force's other Co-Chair was the Squamish Nation's Council Chairperson, Khelsilem, who also recognized the momentous occasion.

"The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a framework for reconciliation. I am proud to present the first-ever co-developed strategy between a city and local First Nations to implement UNDRIP. This is implementing a key call-to-action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and becomes a road map for a meaningful and impactful relationship between Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh, with the City of Vancouver, that benefits all of Vancouver."