B.C. VIEWS: Nisga’a treaty no panacea

There were high hopes and harsh words in 2000 when the provincial and federal governments signed Canada’s first modern-day treaty with the Nisga’a people of northwestern B.C.

Harry Nyce displays Nisga'a formal dress at his induction as president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities in 2009. Nyce helped negotiate the Nisga'a treaty and has served as director of fish and wildlife of the Nisga'a Lisims government.

VICTORIA – There were high hopes and harsh words in 2000 when the provincial and federal governments signed Canada’s first modern-day treaty with the Nisga’a people of northwestern B.C.

The four villages are now governed by the Nisga’a Lisims government, which holds broad authority transferred from the federal and provincial governments. While Canada’s financial support continues to flow, the Nisga’a Nation is nearing the stage where it must begin to collect taxes and become self-sustaining.

A new study by the Winnipeg-based Frontier Centre for Public Policy offers a unique look behind the scenes of this remote experiment. And judging by the hostile response of the Nisga’a government to the findings, it may be the last one for some time.

Is the Nisga’a Nation ready to support itself? The short answer is no, according to polling data and extensive interviews with “key informants” who are not identified.

Co-author Joseph Quesnel told me he interviewed 15 influential people, both supporters and critics of the treaty, since he first visited the region last fall.

A larger phone survey by COMPAS Research found that more people trust the Nisga’a government compared to the old Indian Act regime. But divisions remain, particularly over giving up aboriginal tax exemptions.

Quesnel said he met people who have left the Nisga’a villages for nearby Tsimshian communities, before sales and income taxes take effect in 2013.

According to the study, a culture of dependency that grew up during a century of colonial-style rule remains pervasive. The authors report many of the same problems that plague Indian Act reserves, such as willful damage to housing, accusations of nepotism and failed business investment.

“More than one key informant observed that old attitudes and mentalities persist regarding public services,” the report states. “Expectations at the local level that the village government will provide everything are still rampant.”

Quesnel said the Nisga’a Nation’s recent move to allow fee-simple ownership of municipal-style lots is a key step towards self-sufficiency. But the land title system is still in development and it’s too soon to see results.

The study notes that economic conditions in Nisga’a territory have become worse since the treaty. Quesnel agreed with my suggestion that this has more to do with the decline of forestry and fishing than any failure of governance.

Nisga’a Lisims President Mitchell Stevens issued a statement rejecting the report’s findings, citing two factual errors and denying that he had participated.

Quesnel, a Quebec Metis with a background in journalism, said he was welcomed on his initial visit and was even invited to attend a Nisga’a Lisims executive meeting. But he said Stevens and other officials “stopped responding” as the project progressed.

In his statement, Stevens described the code of conduct for Nisga’a officials and the complaint process people can use to hold them accountable for decisions. The president dismissed the “colourful commentary” of a few “key informants” who didn’t expect to be quoted.

Quesnel says that despite the slow progress, he remains convinced the Nisga’a treaty is a positive step. Now investors have only one government to deal with, and the region has electricity, mining and gas development on the drawing board.

And there are lessons to be learned by other aboriginal communities, such as tackling dependency and addiction problems before a treaty is signed, and bringing in outside experts to set up businesses.

“Mitchell Stevens, when I spoke to him, was optimistic about the ability to reduce transfers, even eliminate them,” Quesnel said. “Without financial independence, I think political self-government is really an illusion. Ultimately, you’re still dependent.”

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

www.twitter.com/tomfletcherbc

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

From the Chilliwack Progress Archives: Fearing an Aryan invasion

In 1995, Chilliwack Mayor John Les was concerned about the idea of an ‘Aryan Fest’ coming to town.

Big Bar Landslide saw long awaited blasting this week

Pressure has been on senior governments working with First Nations to remove blockage for months

COLUMN: Trying to look forward while looking back

Reader suggests re-running a 2015 Times column after recent racism towards Indigenous people

Two prolific offenders from Alberta lead RCMP on chase across Fraser Valley

Men first reported in Chilliwack ending with allegedly stolen vehicle in an Abbotsford pond

Chilliwack physiotherapist charged with sexual assault

Mounties urging other potential victims to make contact

VIDEO: Behind the scenes of turning newspapers into digital archives

Kelowna Capital News donated materials dating from 1980 to 2000

Heart attacks strike B.C. husband and wife just over one year apart

Courtenay couple share personal stories to bring awareness to heart month

‘Nothing surprises us anymore:’ U.S. border officials find brain in package

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents found the brain packed in a glass mason jar in a Canada Post shipment

Fiery collision involving truck closes Highway 1 at Three Valley Gap

Drivers should expect major delays and congestion; estimated time of re-opening is 2 p.m.

B.C., Ottawa sign sweeping 30-year deal for northern caribou habitat

West Moberly, Saulteau co-manage new protection on two million acres

Eyes on police after Trudeau orders blockades torn down, injunctions enforced

The RCMP in B.C. have sent a letter to the traditional leaders of the Wet’suwet’en Nation

B.C. massage therapist suspended following allegations of sexual misconduct

While suspended, Leonard Krekic is not entitled to practice as an RMT in B.C.

‘A bag full of garbage every 15 metres’: Surrey industrial area filled with trash

Local workers looking to recruit business, raise funds to help dispose of litter

Cheapest in B.C.: Penticton gas prices dip below $1 per litre

Two stores in Penticton have gas below a dollar.

Most Read