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

Robbery suspect arrested near Burns Lake

RCMP use spike belt to deflate vehicle’s tires

‘Beauty amongst such tragedy:’ B.C. photographer captures nature’s trifecta

David Luggi’s photo from a beach in Fraser Lake shows Shovel Lake wildfire, Big Dipper and an aurora

Four-legged evacuees, Vanderhoof

Local physician opens up her property for 60 dogs and numerous horses

Fire Command Centre Base of Operations, Vanderhoof

Crews from all over B.C. waiting for their call-out

‘We will not forget:’ Thousands attend funeral fallen Fredericton officers

Hundreds of officials marched in the parade, which included massed band, several police motorcycles

Lions give up late TD in 24-23 loss to Argos

B.C. falls to 3-5, fumbling away last-minute chance in Toronto

Eagle tree cut down legally a 1st for B.C. city

Planned eagle preserve ‘a first for City of Surrey’

Northern B.C. residents face more evacuation orders as some smoke clears up

Regional District of BulkleyNechako issued new, expanded evacuation orders for remote areas Saturday

Smoky skies like a disappearing act for sights, monuments around B.C.

Haze expected to last the next several days, Environment Canada said

Canadians react to death of former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan at age 80

Nobel Peace Prize-winning former UN leader died early Saturday following a short illness

44 drownings so far this year in B.C.

Lifesaving Society urging caution to prevent deaths while on lakes, oceans and in pools

Some of B.C.’s air quality levels worse than Jodhpur, India

Okanagan, northern B.C. seeing some of the worst air quality globally

Vancouver Island woman to attempt historic swim across Juan de Fuca Strait today

Ultra-marathon swimmer Susan Simmons to attempt to swim from Victoria to Port Angeles and back

Most Read