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

Just Posted

After 30 years, Agassiz’s Miss Marge set to retire from Variety Play

From 1989 to today, Miss Marge has taken generations of kids through the district play program

RCMP believe Missing Hope teenager was headed to Chilliwack

Keely Reeze Loewen, 18, last in contact with a family member on June 13

Summer service by bus from Chilliwack to Cultus Lake starting soon

Seasonal change will see bus service from Vedder Road to Cultus elementary until Labour Day

Chilliwack trustees divided on Trans Mountain pipeline route near two schools

School district will pen letter to NEB to ask for re-routing away from schools to be considered

Agassiz RCMP finally able to get outdoor picnic table

Funds from Harrison and Kent will allow the detachment to purchase the outdoor seating area

VIDEO: Reading splashes into Agassiz’s Ferny Coombe Pool

The Agassiz Library held its annual Reading in the Pool event Friday, June 14

B.C. teen killed by falling tree near Victoria

Second youth also injured in freak incident during field trip at Camp Barnard near Sooke

Elias Pettersson wins Calder Trophy as NHL’s top rookie

Vancouver forward first Canuck to win award since Pavel Bure in 1992

FVRD chair calls B.C. incineration plan for Philippines waste ‘disturbing’

Metro Vancouver ‘uniquely capable’ of safely disposing of waste coming back to Canada, say officials

VIDEO: Acknowledging skeptics, finance minister vows to build Trans Mountain project

Bill Morneau said he recognizes ‘huge amount of anxiety’ in Calgary over future of oil and gas sector

Shovels could be in the ground on Trans Mountain by September, CEO says

Ian Anderson points to weeks likely required for NEB to reinstate 2016 regulatory record

Scorpion gives birth after hitching ride in B.C. woman’s luggage

A Vancouver woman inadvertently brought the animal home from a trip to Cuba

RCMP allows officers to grow beards

Members can now wear beards and goatees, as long as they’re neatly groomed

Girl, 10, poisoned by carbon monoxide at B.C. campsite could soon return home

Lucille Beaurain died and daughter Micaela Walton, 10, was rushed to B.C. Children’s Hospital on May 18

Most Read