Openness, trust key to Gitxsan success

Gitxsan need to know that all our leaders have the hopes and desires, problems and issues of all Gitxsan people uppermost in their minds.

We have children, youth and adults who need choices in education, employment and security, and some people with serious needs. They need to know that all our leaders – Gitxsan Nation level, elected community representatives, program and service delivery organizations – have the hopes and desires, problems and issues of all Gitxsan people uppermost in their minds.

The politics of exclusion that have been so much a part of the Gitxsan Treaty office (“GTO”) for the last 15 years cannot continue in a new Gitxsan Nation organization.  We are one people, and continuing to promote arbitrary and unnecessary divisions amongst ourselves given our historic and contemporary realities is unwise and unhealthy.  But first, we need to know where we stand with regard to the Gitxsan Chiefs Office (“GCO”) and Gitxsan Treaty Society (“GTS”).  We need to take three important steps:

Step 1:  Establish who the members of any new organization will be.  Contrary to what has been espoused for far too long, the Sgogam Simoighet (head chief) does not have all the say. Wing chiefs and house members must also have a say in matters that affect the entire house and Gitxsan Nation.  For example, while preparing for the Delgamuukw case, the plaintiffs for each house were identified after lengthy meetings with the head chief and his or her house members, not just the head chief.

Step 2:  Once we decide who will be the members of any continued, or new, Gitxsan organization, there will need to be a complete review of the GTS finances and governance documents.  It would be unwise for the members to appoint a new board before we know the actual financial status of the GCO and the GTS.

Step 3:  Its easy to appoint board members, but finding Gitxsan individuals who are capable of changing the organizational culture from what we have experienced for the last 15 years will be a challenge.

It will take extraordinary leadership for the Gitxsan people to come together as one.

This means that the members of our senior organization, in whatever form it takes legally (under the Society Act, or otherwise), must choose very, very carefully who the board members of the new organization will be.

This cannot be a snap decision, because where we eventually end up as a nation depends on the leadership skills, board experience and values of each board member.  But equally crucial is the choice of chair for the board.  The success of the board, and ultimately of the Gitxsan Nation, will be directly linked to the leadership qualities of the board chair.

In the meantime, while we are building this new organization, we will need a qualified care-taker body to look after routine on-going business.

Once established, the new board will have three main responsibilities:

First, it must establish the vision, mission, values and goals of the Gitxsan Nation, and be held accountable for achieving the strategic plan it has developed.

Next, the board must hire an executive director with a track record of achievement in senior management positions, who is respectful and with a strong moral compass and who understands the organizational boundaries that go with such an important position. If a Gitxsan person does not meet the criteria, then we need to seek an outside person.

Finally, the board must regularly evaluate the executive director in terms of the achievement of the Gitxsan Nation’s goals and objectives within the strategic plan established by the board.   The board must not only monitor the financial status of the organization, it must hold publicly advertised annual general meetings, and special general meetings, open to all Gitxsan people.

The plaintiffs in Delgamuukw worked hard, without pay, for the good of all Gitxsan people.  They didn’t spend their time talking about being hereditary chiefs – they were hereditary chiefs.

The plaintiffs were forward looking, thoughtful, kind and honest. They were big people, with big hearts and kind thoughts.  We would do well to follow their example.

Neil Sterritt was president of the Gitksan-Wet’suwet’en Tribal Council, the political organization which took the federal and provincial governments to court, resulting in an advancement of native rights and title through the Delgamuukw decision of 1997. He is now a consultant.

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