Nisga’a vote coming up

Nisgaa’a Nation heads to the polls Nov. 7 to elect urban, village and national leaders

HERE are profiles of the three people who wish to be the next president of the Nisga’a Nation.

Charles Morven

AT 42 years of age, Charles Matthew Morven is the youngest of the three presidential candidates, describing himself as part of Generation X – a bridge between the younger Generation Y and the older baby boomer one.

He was born in Prince Rupert and his home village is Gitlaxt’aamiks (New Aiyansh) but he lives in Gitwinksihlkw, the home village of his wife.

Morven’s Nisga’a name is Daaxheet and he is from the Ganada or Raven/Frog tribe or clan.

Morven was elected to the Gitwinksihlkw village government in 2008 and is the village’s deputy chief councillor, a position that ends as of Nov. 7.

That may represent only one term in village government, but Morven has also represented the village on the Nisga’a Valley Health Authority and is currently the chair of the body which provides health services throughout the Nass Valley.

He’s also been a senior fisheries technician with the fisheries and wildlife department of the Nisga’a Lisims Government.

In political terms, Morven would have what’s called a solid pedigree – his father is Herb Morven, who was executive chair of the Nisga’a Lisims Government from 2000 to 2004 and one of the group of Nisga’a heavily involved in the latter stages of the treaty negotiations.

Morven’s also related to the late Alvin McKay, who was the schools superintendent in the Nass Valley and was at one time president of the Nisga’a Tribal Council, the predecessor to the Nisga’a Lisims Government.

Morven says he’s running for the Lisims presidency because after four years of being on the Gitwinksihlkw village government, a position which also meant a seat within the national assembly, he believes there’s too much top down governing going on.

“Our village government tries to create economic opportunity for our village and one of the things we tried to do was build a fish processing plant and we were halted at the Lisims government level,” said Morven.

“I think the Nisga’a Lisims Government and their officers should support their institutions rather than the other way around.”

Morven also says there are a growing number of Nisga’a wondering about the central government’s plans to create a jobs-producing economic climate.

“We’re at a critical stage. Taxation will be coming in Jan. 23, 2013 and we need an economic base to support that taxation and we don’t have one.”

Eva Clayton

THERE’S a picture on Eva Clayton’s campaign website. It’s in black and white, dates way back and is of a young woman surrounded by a group of men.

That young woman is Clayton and the men are the core group of Nisga’a leaders who advanced the work of what became the 2000 Nisga’a Final Agreement.

“I was the recording secretary, but I just didn’t write things down. I processed them up here,” says Clayton pointing a finger to her head.

Clayton, 55, carries the Nisga’a name of Nox Wiluugamixthlox from Wilps (House) Ksim Xsaan of the Ganada clan.

Clayton isn’t the first woman to seek high office (Terrace resident Frances Stanley, for instance, ran against Mitchell Stevens in the 2010 presidential by-election) but she is the first to hold a significant public office, that being Gitlaxt’aamiks chief councillor from 2004-2008.

“And I was the first female Nisga’a to become a deputy chief and that was in 1998,” Clayton added.

Clayton says it’s not been easy being a female Nisga’a politician but that she’s been encouraging other Nisga’a woman, and youth, to become involved in Nisga’a government.

“There’s a fear of reprisal. A fear of speaking out,” says Clayton. “A lot of it has to do with the way we were brought up.”

But there’s been a shift since the 2000 treaty came into being, Clayton adds.

Clayton’s emphasizing better communication between the national Lisims government with Nisga’a citizens and more participation in decision making.

She’s zeroed in on the signing by the Nisga’a Lisims Government of a 2011 deal with BC Hydro allowing construction of the Northwest Transmission Line through the Lava Bed Memorial Park and through Nisga’a core lands.

“That’s still upsetting to our people. They never got to see any details and the leaders of the day didn’t see fit to have the people vote on the Northwest Transmission Line [agreement].”

Clayton cited the example of the Tahltan which did hold a vote on whether or not to accept a transmission line benefits agreement.

She said Nisga’a leaders may have claimed there was a gag order preventing them from discussing details, but that in itself showed a lack of faith in being able to trust Nisga’a citizens.

“I would review the Northwest Transmission Line agreement and report my findings to the people,” said Clayton.

H. Mitchell Stevens

IN office for just two years since his byelection win of 2010, incumbent H. Mitchell Stevens is from Laxgalts’ap (Greenville).

He has the Nisga’a name of Sim’oogit K’aw’een, from the Laxgibuu (wolf) tribe  of the House of Duuk’.

Stevens is 57, making him by a close margin over Eva Clayton, the oldest of the three presidential candidates.

His 2010 byelection came from a political background of spending 20 years as a Laxgalts’ap village government councillor.

“I felt at the time I was the most able capable person of carrying out the task and I would be hitting the ground running and not be a hindrance to the nation of moving forward,” said Stevens.

He said he’s been happy with the progress of the past two years, saying the work falls within the intent and purpose of the 2000 final agreement.

But he does acknowledge growing calls for evidence of progress on the economic development.

In particular, Nisga’a citizens are tracking Avanti, which has a molybdenum property at Kitsault, and Seabridge, which has a gold property. Both are within Nisga’a traditional territory and both are willing to sign economic development agreements with the Lisims government.

And just recently natural gas pipeline companies have been knocking on the door, looking for approval for routes to the ocean to connect to planned liquefied natural gas terminals.

But Stevens counsels caution, saying Avanti is still in the provincial environmental assessment phase and Seabridge has yet to submit its project for examination.

And it would be wrong, when neither has had environmental approval, to provide an endorsement, he continued.

“But as a government we’re obligated to speak to all parties,” said Stevens. “We’re quite aware of all the developments in the area and we have to be involved.”

He does say the nation needs to move from a service-based economy to a market economy.

“You can’t have an economic base without industry. These things are coming,” says Stevens. But he does add that ultimately industrial projects depend upon the confidence companies have of investing in the overall economy and on the state of the markets for the products they wish to produce.

“We can’t speculate on what the corporate giants might do. What will be the province’s economic outlook for the next 10 years?” Stevens asks.