Nisga’a government needs to involve its citizens

Ginger Gosnell Myers comments on what is needed to improve the Nisga'a Nation government.

Every four years Nisga’a elect representatives from each of the seven Nisga’a communities as well as an executive at the nation level.

No strangers to political processes, one would expect a certain level of expertise and understanding on our Nisga’a election laws, but this election saw a delayed release of the candidates by a few weeks and numerous disqualified hopeful candidates.

How many were disqualified is still vague, but Nisga’a are wondering how this came to be. Why are there so many empty seats still needing to be filled? Why so many acclamations? What does this malfunction of our most important act of Nisga’a governance mean? This, and other matters are unclear.

When the treaty was signed in 2000 it was ushered in with great fanfare and celebrated by other First Nations around the world.

Finally – self governance and economic certainty can be achieved by Nisga’a for Nisga’a.

The efforts of many and the hopes of a nation could be realized, and the real work began in a style that could only be characterized as 100% Nisga’a.

And then there was silence. A tremendous breakdown in communication and engagement from our Nisga’a government. Do we know of a plan for the implementation of income taxation in the next few months? No.

Do we know how Nisga’a Lisims Government (NLG) will be able to sustain its annual budget once the treaty transfer payments conclude in 2016? No.

Do we have information on how we can utilize the privatization of our lands? Can we be certain there will be no loss to our traditional lands? No.

How about reviewing the way we are governing and trying to improve upon it?

What about some general knowledge sessions about our treaty and how these major changes are going to impact our lives? Silence.

When I imagine Nisga’a governance I see the wealth of our people being utilized and invested in. Not just in creating employment but in the ideas we have and our understanding of the issues because of who we are, how we live, and that our lives are dependent on our connectedness to one another.

The success of a nation is in its people and that means coming together often, working with the people to make ideas happen and trying to understand the issues together.

Right now the important discussions are taking place with consultants, lawyers, and non-Nisga’a participants at far away conferences more so than they are with Nisga’a citizens.

The solutions we seek will be solved by engaging with Nisga’a not with others.

Those elected to govern the Nisga’a people and lands need to understand that their work lies mainly in engaging with its people on a regular basis and not just once a year.

For instance, there are more than 1000 Nisga’a living in the Vancouver region who are highly engaged by our Ts’amiks Local Society. I feel lucky to have the quality programs and events provided for Vancouver area Nisga’a.

What we lack is in our political connection to the national Nisga’a Lisims Government.

That we never see or hear from our Nisga’a executive members or senior staff at the Lisims government for all the trips they make here shows our importance to our government.

I don’t want my government to be elusive and yet that is what we have as post treaty Nisga’a governance.

First Nations people enjoy coming together and engaging in political discussions. Some say we are born political!

But self-governance needs to build in engagement processes with its people that far surpass anything that had been in place before.

When we self-govern it needs to be people oriented. Our young people need to be brought in with special attention and involvement.

Those who are reaching their education goals need to be brought back into the governance equation somehow. Nisga’a are ready and willing to step up if our government allows it.

Ginger Gosnell Myers is a political activist and her home village is Gitlaxt’aamiks (New Aiyansh). She now lives in Vancouver where she works for the Vancouver Foundation on a project to bring governments and non profit groups together for the betterment of individuals and communities.