Sts’ailes First Nation made a historical decision last month when members voted to remove the band from a section of the Indian Act.
A total of 358 eligible voters participated in the Sts’ailes Land Code referendum July 24-25, with 335 – 94 per cent – voting to have Sts’ailes operational under its own land code.
That vote means Sts’ailes joins over 200 other First Nations communities across Canada working toward, or already operating under, an independent land code, including Seabird Island Band, who verified its land code in 2009.
“I think it’s probably the best thing that could have happened for our community,” said Sts’ailes chief Ralph Leon Jr. “Before [colonialism], we had our own natural laws that were in place…but we couldn’t utilize those because we were under the Indian Act and Indian Affairs. To them, our ways weren’t counted.”
The Sts’ailes Land Code was already drafted and reviewed with input from the Sts’ailes Lands Committee over a series of meetings that started back in 2016 when the band entered the developmental phase of the land code process.
The code is titled ‘Xa’Xa Temexw’ which translates, roughly, to ‘our sacred lands.’ It defines laws around spousal property, land protection, mortgages and access rights, among other rules.
“It means we have, pretty much, the jurisdiction of our own community [and] the land. So we can develop our own laws for the land,” Leon said.
Congratulations to the Sts'ailes First Nation who passed their Land Code in July 2018. They now have the ability to make the decisions on how their reserve lands and resource are managed. https://t.co/lUt2pxZxlE https://t.co/lUt2pxZxlE
— 'Namgis Nation (@namgisFN) August 22, 2018
The land code is a legal process that removes the nation from 34 sections – 25 per cent – of the portion of the Indian Act that applies to land management. The new code transfers the authority and responsibility of reserve land and resources-related lawmaking to the Sts’ailes First Nation council.
With reserve land laws no longer governed by the Indian Act, Leon said the nation can make better and more efficient decisions for itself.
“Before, when we wanted to build our schools, it took years of negotiating. This way, we can just build a new school if we need to,” he said. “We almost have the same jurisdiction that little towns and cities would have now.”
“We’ll still be working closely with [local] mayors, the province, with federal government,” he added. “We’re still going to work with them to develop our laws, but the good thing about our laws now is if we make a mistake we can change our laws ourselves. If it’s made in Sts’ailes it can be fixed in Sts’ailes.”
The land code removes some red tape, but its also significant for a nation that has been under the jurisdiction of the federal government for over 150 years. Leon said the nation will continue to work with provincial and federal governments, but he hopes to one day see Sts’ailes achieve complete independence.
“Some day, maybe our grandchildren will take that on. We’re working towards our own constitution,” he said. “In the back of our minds we feel we’re ready for independence, but we still need to work with Indian Affairs and the Indian Act.”