The BC Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act is an important step by the provincial government to affirm and implement the self-determination of Indigenous peoples. As an organization led by youth most impacted by HIV and Hep C, we welcome this legislation that affirms the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is relevant here in what we now call BC, to support the implementation of UNDRIP, and to affirm Indigenous governance models. We look forward to its implementation as part of our work to create and support Indigenous youth leadership within HIV and Hep C movements.
Why is this relevant to the work we do at YouthCO? There are several reasons: briefly, YouthCO works on land taken from Indigenous peoples and nations across what we now call BC, and thus, our work must happen alongside Indigenous people. We have heard from Indigenous youth in our community that this legislation is relevant, not only to our work, but to the full lives and wellness of Indigenous communities. Last, this legislation is relevant to our work because settler colonialism, and the ways it has criminalized, marginalized, and targeted Indigenous people, governance, and ways of knowing, is the primary driver of HIV and Hep C within Indigenous communities. We believe the articles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will help to create an environment which will strengthen Indigenous leadership within and beyond the HIV and Hep C movements.
In the conversations we have with Indigenous youth, through the Yúusnewas program and our other programs at YouthCO, we hear that access to cultural teachings, language, and medicines, are a key part of wellness, making sexual health and harm reduction more accessible. We also hear that having access to health services that are designed by and for Indigenous people in every part of what we now call BC is crucial for youth. Some of these messages are shared in videos that Indigenous youth make each year at First Directions, a week-long workshop for Indigenous youth to connect with each other, Indigenous cultures, and relevant conversations about HIV and Hep C, including the connections between colonization, stigma, and these two viruses.
Articles 21 and 22 identify Indigenous youth as a priority group whose rights and special needs should be met in the implementation of the Declaration. At YouthCO, we work to affirm Indigenous youth leadership within our organization, and advocate to ensure HIV and Hep C programs and policies in BC reach and support Indigenous youth.
Article 15.1 affirms that Indigenous people have the right to specific, rather than pan-Indigenous, cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations. In what we now call BC, there are many nations, languages, and teachings, each of one of which is affirmed by Article 15.1. Additionally, Article 14.1 affirms Indigenous people’s rights to develop and make decisions about education, including providing education in Indigenous languages.
As an organization that works to ensure youth have access to culturally responsive health care and information, we also welcome Article 24.1, which affirms the right of Indigenous people to traditional medicines, maintain health practices, and access social and health services free from discrimination.
We appreciate the work led by Indigenous nations, Indigenous people within and outside our settler colonial governments to introduce this legislation, and look forward to it being passed into law, and most importantly, implemented to support and affirm Indigenous self-determination across all sectors, including in the response to HIV and Hep C.
Learn more about the BC Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act: