The positives of 2017 in B.C. have outweighed the negatives for Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, recently named one of Vancouver’s 50 most powerful people.
“I was certainly grateful for the acknowledgement that the Indigenous voice in the discourse on political issues in regard to our constitutional and legal rights and environmental is acknowledged and heard,” Grand Chief Phillip said.
Phillip, a former Penticton Indian Band chief and current Okanagan Nation Alliance chairman, was named the 34th most powerful person in Vancouver by Vancouver Magazine, which he said was the third time he made the magazine’s annual Power 50 list. In 2013, he was ranked number 22, but he wasn’t able to say when he made the list previously. The archives do not appear to go beyond 2013.
For Phillip, 2017 was marked by major strides for B.C.’s Indigenous Peoples making themselves heard on issues where they often lacked a voice, including on Indigenous rights and environmental issues.
“Vis-à-vis the multitude of Supreme Court decisions and the ongoing debate around issues such as the previous Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, for example, we were very much centrally involved in that,” Phillip said.
“We’re currently involved in the Site C dam issue, supporting the Treaty 8 people in there in opposition and, of course, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline.”
In his protests of various issues, Phillip said he has been arrested three or four times, reinforcing “our commitment and our resolve in regards to these issues.”
The six-person editorial team involved in the list appear to agree, giving him the nickname Stoic and Steadfast.
“Stewart Phillip is a man of unwavering principles,” the article said. “He publicly stated he would not attend a ceremony with Prince William when a ring of reconciliation was added to the Black Rod. And, most recently, he voiced disapproval of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s environmental track record.”
It was the environmental issues that got Phillip on the Power 50 list in 2013, too, with the editorial team referring to the priority Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and Christy Clark’s B.C. Liberals had put on energy and resources, which lent the Indigenous population power and leverage hitherto unknown.
“That newfound clout is often verbalized by Phillip in his role as president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs,” the 2013 article said. “His has been the resistant voice the federal government has encountered in its efforts to get B.C.’s First Nations leaders onboard with building oil pipelines to the coast.”
That article also pointed to the “broken” relationship the RCMP and First Nations had, with Phillip often critical of the former group.
Phillip said he believes the sway of Indigenous people has grown over the years between his 2013 appearance on the Power 50 list and this year.
“Certainly our rights-based positions on these issues have not changed. What has changed is the vast majority of British Columbians support our positions on all of these issues,” he said.
“I think that was very evident in the last provincial election that, where it was that vast multitude of groups and organizations that do not support that false economy, that boom and bust economy represented by so-called mega projects.”
He said he’s seeing more support for First Nations opposition to those projects largely because of climate change, and not so much because Indigenous people are being heard more — but that isn’t to say Indigenous people aren’t being heard.
And with the Liberal Party in power federally and the NDP in power provincially, Phillip said he feels Indigenous groups have a more sympathetic ear in government than previously.
“I don’t think there’s any question about that because as you know the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia, the current government has completely embraced the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and everything that that represents,” he said.
He pointed to the federal Liberals adopting the NDP bill that would implement UNDRIP’s policies and recommendations, as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations.
“The willingness on the part of the governments in a post-Clark era so to speak that are willing to engage the legal principles and provisions of landmark Tsilhqot’in decision would indicate that there is a paradigm shift toward supporting our long struggle to seek a sense of redress and justice in all of these issues,” he said.
The Tsilhqot’in decision was a 2014 unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision to grant the Tsilhqo’tin First Nation title to a large stretch of land in their territory.
The Vancouver Power 50 list was composed by an editorial team of six prominent Vancouver-area journalists and was released last week.