Nisga'a celebrate 10 years of self-government
The Nisga'a Nation marked a decade of self-government on Tuesday afternoon, with a day of feasting, speeches and celebrations in the remote community of New Aiyansh, located in the Nass Valley on the North Coast of B.C.
The First Nation was the first to sign a modern-day treaty with the Province of British Columbia and the Government of Canada in 1998. On May 11, 2000, the Nisga'a Lisims Government formally came into effect and the community passed its first laws.
The deal meant the Indian Act ceased to apply to the Nisga'a people, except for the purpose of Indian registration, and Nisga'a people had the legal authority to conduct their own affairs. It also recognized the Nisga'a title to 2,000 square kilometres of land in the Nass Valley.
Mitchell Stevens, the new president of the Nisga'a Lisims government, said self-government has been good for his people.
"We have been told many, many times that we have sold out. We're not going to succeed, but here we are today breaking ground, and we're very excited about it," Stevens said Tuesday.
Since the Nisga'a final agreement was signed in 2000 only two other treaties with the Tsawwassen and the Maa'nulth First Nations have been signed in B.C., despite years of expensive negotiations with dozens of First Nations.
Stevens said other First Nations can achieve what the Nisga'a has.
"Get your people educated, not only in the school system, educate them about your history. And educate them about your own cultural practices of government, so that they do have a true sense of direction," he said.
Last year, the Nisga'a became the first First Nation in Canada to approve private property rights and in 2008 the Nisga began paying taxes under the terms of the final agreement.
But not everyone in the community is happy with the progress made since the deal was reached.
Ginger Gosnell-Myers, a Nisga'a from New Aiyansh who is living in the Vancouver area while working on her master's degree in public policy, agrees Tuesday's celebrations marked an important milestone.
"It wasn't that long ago that it was illegal for First Nations to engage in self-government activities or even gather," she said. "It's something that my parents wouldn't have even thought of, possibly even my grandparents."
But she doesn't think the treaty has helped the Nisga'a enough in the 10 years it has been in effect.
"I think in the next 10 years, if the progress is the same as the last 10 years, then we're in a lot of trouble."