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"cultural heritage resource" means an object, a site or the location of a traditional societal practice that is of historical, cultural or archaeological significance to British Columbia, a community or an aboriginal people; [1]

When BC led the country by passing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act in 2019, it signed on to align its laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. One of the laws in need of alignment deals with protecting and conserving heritage property.

4.35 Work with First Nations to reform the Heritage Conservation Act to align with the UN Declaration, including shared decision-making and the protection of First Nations cultural, spiritual, and heritage sites and objects. [2]

With over 60,000 registered, protected heritage sites in the province, of which over 90% are of First Nations origin, the conservation of registered sites and yet-to-be-registered sites was identified as a priority. In November 2021, the first of the three-phase Heritage Conservation Act Transformation Project (HCATP) was launched with the goal of producing effective legislation by 2024. Here’s the timeline:

  • Phase 1 – Engagement on the HCATP Process and Priorities for Change (Spring-Fall 2022)
  • Phase 2 – Policy and options development, refinement, and engagement (Spring-Fall 2023)
  • Current Status (Updated January 2024) – Given recent feedback, rather than introducing a near-term package of legislative amendments to this mandate, the HCATP will instead work towards the development of a more comprehensive package. This means that changes will not be introduced this legislative session, but will be developed for future legislative sessions, which will allow time to ensure the proposed legislative amendments are more responsive to First Nations and stakeholder feedback. [3]

Generally speaking, municipalities/local governments and resource developers/contractors are the sectors most likely to encounter a cultural heritage resource. We’ve assembled some tips for both sectors to consider:

Best practice tips for municipalities/local governments:

  • Ensure staff are familiar with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
  • Know the Indigenous cultural history of your jurisdiction.
  • Know the capacity of the associated Indigenous communities to protect their cultural resources.
  • Ensure relevant staff are up to date on the HCATP and the reports from each Phase.
  • Reach out to your building and development associations to ensure they are informed of the changes coming so they can be proactive in their site surveys.
  • Have literature on hand for those applying for permits.

Best practice tips for resource developers/contractors:

  • Ensure staff are familiar with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
  • Know on whose traditional land your project area sits.
  • Know the cultural history of your project area.
  • Reach out to the Indigenous community early to determine the cultural “no-go” zones.
  • Proactively develop a process or action plan for situations that involve cultural heritage resources.
  • Build relationships with an archaeologist/group/company now so you can reach out to them when needed. Keep in mind that this profession will be in high demand as the province will want to “archaeologist up” to meet the demands of the HCAPT, as will other developers, contractors, municipalities and local governments.
  • Start your consultation early with the Nation of the territory you will be working in. By doing so, you will likely learn if the Nation has an archaeologist they prefer to work with versus a “hired gun” that pushes the developer’s agenda.
  • Some Nations have the resources to engage an archaeologist, whereas others do not. Consider providing capacity funding for the community to hire the archaeologist of their choice.
  • HCAPT is province-wide; it is the law, and Indigenous people and communities know their rights.
  • Don’t wait until the Act is implemented - begin the learning process now to avoid financially and socially costly project delays.

Here are some courses we offer to help you with your relationship-building process, consultation and understanding of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:

  • A commitment to reconciliation includes respecting and understanding how the land holds the history, culture, language, and identity of Indigenous Peoples: First Nation Relationship to the Land

When it comes to preserving historic, culturally sensitive sites, we only have one chance. Once the area is disturbed, it’s too late. There’s no undoing the damage.

[1] The Forest Act (RSBC 1996), Section 001 — Definitions and interpretation
[2] Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act
[3] Heritage Conservation Act Transformation Project

Featured photo: Shutterstock

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