Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs’ landmark factory farming resolution | V. Victoria Shroff

By V. Victoria Shroff

Law360 Canada (July 20, 2023, 9:53 AM EDT) --
V. Victoria Shroff
V. Victoria Shroff
Few areas in animal law and environmental law can compete with the magnitude of destruction of animals and earth like factory farming. According to the aptly and graphically named Animal Kill Clock, in 2022, some 840 million land animals were slaughtered for food consumption in Canada. 

The climate crisis and factory farming are linked. Factory farming is a major contributor to enormous volumes of greenhouse gases, has devastating effects on climate change, humans, animals and the earth and must be addressed. Experts posit that human created climate change is the biggest threat to survival of all species on earth. (See: Climate Change ‘Biggest Threat Modern Humans Have Ever Faced.’ 

Animals, the environment and climate concerns intersect when we examine the perils of factory farming. We need to examine the issues from the standpoint of sentience and stewardship, to understand that we are all connected. In fact, to survive, animals and the environment need laws that account for sentience and stewardship.

Incorporating Indigenous wisdom for survival of animals, humans, land

I recently presented a Tedx talk on how all sentient beings, humans, animals, the earth are all inter-related, that we should be learning and incorporating Indigenous wisdom. (See: TEDxCapilano U — Why Animals Need Law.) 

We can and should seek guidance from Indigenous wisdom for potential solutions for how we can alleviate, strengthen and improve environmental and animal welfare impacts of factory farming. Indigenous thinking incorporates long-term generational thinking, reciprocal relationships and posits understanding of the interlaced web of all life forms.

Judy Wilson, former Kúkpi7 (chief) of Neskonlith, who served as chief for 16 years and a councillor for eight years, explains protocol and preservation, how connections to the animals and land are cultural and sacred, not commodities:

“Our First Nations hold a reciprocal relationship with animals and all of creation. The natural laws are the foundation and our original teachings about our origins and the animals. When we talk about our seasonal rounds, hunting and harvesting our Elders talked about our roles and responsibilities we have to each of the animals, where they came from and their Sacredness. They were not just another resource. ... They were relatives. They guide us spiritually and culturally even today. Every aspect of our lives were in relation to animals, and they are highly regarded, even when we are hunting or trapped them. We never took more than we needed, and we did not use them commercially. We did not interfere a lot with animal’s homes and relations; we respected the biodiversity of their environments; we understood the importance of balance and commercialization disrespects that.”

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) resolution has called on provincial and federal governments to strengthen animal welfare and to address environmental hazards of factory farming through new legislation.

In the spring, I was contacted by one of our former learned animal law students, Laura Beaudry, who took animal law at UBC's Allard School of Law. Now a policy analyst, she reached out to me about an exciting new resolution in process at the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs regarding chiefs in B.C.’s perspectives on factory farming that would build on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as well as previous resolutions in 2021. The resolution from the UBCIC chiefs council supports a co-existence model based on Indigenous knowledge that takes its cue from a cultural, ethical and cruelty-free stance towards animals based on principles of sentience, stewardship, reciprocity and sustainability for the current generation and those to come. I was immediately interested in getting involved.

The UN declaration that the government of Canada adopted without qualification, and has, along with the government of B.C., passed legislation and sets priorities, with a commitment to implement and affirm that Indigenous peoples have an inherent right to participate in decision-making matters which would affect rights concerning their own representatives, decision-making institutions, consultation, determine and develop priorities for land use, including rights to their traditional medicines, health practices, conservation of their vital medicinal plants, animals and minerals (Articles 18, 24 and 32) and that states are to operate with a spirit of co-operation, informed consent and good faith before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative change (Article 19), is specifically referred to in the resolution.

In June 2023, the UBCIC factory farming Resolution No. 2023-19 RE: Call to Strengthen Animal Farming Practices and Address the Significant Environmental Impacts of Factory Farming passed. The UBCIC factory farming resolution takes aim at the disastrous impact of climate change, disease and habitat loss due to factory farming. It calls on governments to collaborate with First Nations in the development and implementation of new legislation that aligns with the UN declaration.

UBCIC’s resolution denounces the maltreatment of animals on factory farms, highlights Indigenous wisdom, sociocultural understanding of reciprocity, human responsibility toward animals and the earth. Chief Don Tom, vice-president of the UBCIC and chief of Tsartlip First Nation explains some of the key background to the resolution:

“First Nations have always exercised self-determination; now with the implementation of the UN Declaration and past case law, we are finally seeing more agreements that recognize our inherent and constitutionally protected title and rights. A part of that important work is resumption of jurisdiction over our lands, including animal welfare, which is severely under regulated. It is not our way to engage in inhumane animal practice; it is not in line with our inherent obligations to the land, and it is certainly not in line with the principles of the UN Declaration or dignified animal care, respect, and reciprocity. We look forward to working with the relevant regulatory bodies to bring these practices up to date. Importantly, the chiefs have called for B.C. and Canada to provide funding for communities to transition to better animal welfare practices that are more aligned with a cruelty-free stance towards animals.”

While affirming inherent title to land and animals, the resolution makes the case that current legislation related to factory farming and the treatment of animals and land is unacceptable, declaring that animal care on factory farms is not properly regulated, lacks transparency, oversight and significantly, fails to align with the UN declaration.

The resolution resolves that the UBCIC chiefs council calls on Canada and B.C. to work with First Nations farmers to co-develop legislation to resolve the negative impacts of climate change, habitat loss and harm to animals due to factory farming.

Reciprocity, treating animals with respect

The resolution takes aim at the harsh treatment of animals on factory farms: “poor treatment of animals in factory farming practices contravenes the customs, laws, traditions and values of First Nations in B.C. who maintain deep spiritual connections to all living things, including new animal kin that were brought over by colonization and European settlement.” The resolution makes it clear that factory farms where animals are confined in small cages like inanimate beings, to become food products, fails to align with the UN Declaration, displaces Indigenous peoples and values, creates a backdrop for wildfire, floods, produces an enormous degree of greenhouse gases, imperils biodiversity and harms animals and their habitats.

This extract from the preamble to the Resolution sets the tone for responsible, respectful agriculture infused with long-standing ethical and spiritual relations to animals as kin that all should learn from:

WHEREAS it is our spiritual and ethical responsibility to treat our animal relations with respect, reciprocity, and dignity. We walked beside our animal relatives with an understanding that we needed each other to survive.

Animals sustained our people, providing food, medicine, tools, clothing, shelter, warmth, culture, knowledge and identity. When animals sustained us, we treated their sacred bodies with respect. Nothing was wasted and we understood our responsibilities to protect the land, water and air for future generations, including our animal relatives.

UBCIC’s comprehensive resolution was moved by Judy Wilson, proxy for Chief Clarence Louie of Osoyoos Indian Band, seconded by Chief Don Tom, Tsartlip First Nation and carried June 8, 2023, at Xʷ MƏΘKʷ ƏY̓ƏM (Musqueam Territory).

This landmark factory farming resolution, that comes down at a pivotal time in history, may become a precedent for other nations and governments. It should be seen as a way forward for humans, animals and the earth, a way to co-exist in the climate crisis and, importantly, to honour the UN declaration on Indigenous rights. By imploring the provincial government in B.C. as well as the federal government to co-create laws that are mindful of animal sentience and stewardship, to align with the UN declaration, the UBCIC has laid the groundwork for policies and law that could one day alleviate suffering for humans, animals and the land in the context of inhumane mechanized factory farming.
 
V. Victoria Shroff is one of Canada’s first and longest serving animal law practitioners. Shroff has practised animal law for over 20 years in Vancouver at Shroff and Associates; is erstwhile adjunct professor of animal law at UBC’s Allard School of Law and faculty, Capilano University. Shroff is an associate fellow at the Oxford Centre Animal Ethics. Recognized locally and internationally as an animal law expert, she is frequently interviewed by media. Her book, Canadian Animal Law is available at LexisNexis Canada. Reach her at shroffandassociates@gmail.com@shroffanimallaw or LinkedIn.

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