I attended the celebration of the Maa-nulth First Nations heralding in their effective date and freedom from the Indian Act. It was a wonderful environment to be in, hope, triumph and a sense of accomplishment permeated the air. Grand Chief Bert Mack captured in the picture above said "it is the happiest day of my life." And at the very end of the celebration, a family from Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’ announced that the first citizen of Maa-nulth had been born early that morning into freedom. Great cheers erupted within the room. Such is the attitude and determination of these peoples.
I walked into the auditorium where the activities were to take place and there on the big screen was a continual round of photographs of Maa-nulth people who had passed on while waiting for the treaty to be completed or were the early warriors that laid the groundwork for the settling of rights and title. Watching the many faces I knew flash by brought back so many memories of our early struggles as Nuu-chah-nulth to get the “Land Question” on the table and then working together as 13 First Nations to negotiate a treaty collectively. My First Nation was the first to leave the Nuu-chah-nulth table to determine our own destiny. When the dust settled, there were only 5 Nations who headed out in their canoes in a direction all their own and became the Maa-nulth of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation.
I spoke last week at the Aboriginal Women In Leadership Forum. My closing statement was, “we have had to be warriors, may our children be builders.” I reflected on this statement as I watched the celebration unfold and wondered if Maa-nulth Final Agreement will enable their people and youth to be builders of their Nations.
There are many challenges ahead and that is recognized by the leaders and peoples of the Maa-nulth First Nations. That is half the battle.
Money will be one of those challenges. The Final Agreement sets out payments to the First Nations as follows: Huu-ay-aht $26.4 million, Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Che:k’tles7et’h’ $22 million; Toquaht: $5.5 million, Uchucklesaht Tribe: $7.2 million and Ucluelet $25.8 million, all over 10 years. Remember as well that treaty loans must be paid over ten years as follows: Huu-ay-aht $3.4 million, Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Che:k’tles7et’h’ $2.9 million, Toquaht $1.3 million, Uchucklesaht $1.5 million and Ucluelet $1.7 million.
To put those payments into perspective, the Federal Government just gave $21 million dollars to the City of Victoria to help toward the cost of construction of the blue bridge which has a cost of around $77 million. Almost as much as all 5 Nations got collectively. Tseil-Waututh First Nation just put $2 million toward a new company that will build wind turbines. The Provincial Government settled with the Musqueam over 3 court cases and paid $30 million and provided 4 pieces of valuable land including the golf course. The province provided the Klahoose First Nation with $2.1 million to buy Tree Farm License 10 as an Incremental Treaty Agreement. I am not going to comment on whether the amounts of money that were provided to the Maa-nulth are fair, that is up to them, but what I wanted to point out is that the amount of money Maa-nulth got is a full and final settlement for their lands and resources and they have to build their future on this. There is no going back and asking for more. Of course there are other smaller pots of money like revenue sharing for 25 years and negotiated fiscal financial agreements, but the cost of running a government is not cheap, and getting into economic development is also costly. Wise and prudent investments and expenditures will be important to all the Maa-nulth Nations.
Another point to remember is that the fiscal financial agreements will be based on a per capita amount based on “status” Indians within the Maa-nulth. (section 1.6.1 states that the only section of the Indian Act that still applies to Maa-nulth is determining whether an individual is an Indian) Their citizenship will include more than status Indians so finances will not be provided for every Maa-nulth citizen and they will have to be sufficiently prosperous to maintain programs and services for all Maa-nulth. This is a very deliberate move by the governments to off load its fiscal responsibility.
Another challenging aspect will be governing their Nations. The Governance sections of the Maa-nulth are much more comprehensive than the current Indian Act. Apart from the 279 page Final Agreement, (not including the appendices and side agreements) the Maa-nulth have passed their own constitutions and many laws and regulations. 98 of them we were informed. The constitution and laws are of course authorized under the Final Agreement. Laws include adoption, child protection, child care, language and culture, kindergarten to trade 12 education, education-post secondary, health, social Development, Solemnization of marriages, public order, peace and safety, emergency preparedness, Public works, regulation of business, traffic, transportation, parking and highways, buildings and structures. With the exception of culture, provincial and federal laws will take precedence if there is a conflict of laws. Enforcement of these laws will be comprehensive and time consuming and new responsibilities.
While these laws are sufficient today and much more comprehensive than the Indian Act, I would be willing to bet that within 10 years or maybe sooner, the Maa-nulth will be wanting and needed more law making powers and will be asking to amend the Final Agreement to be more inclusive of these needed powers. Governments progress and evolve and amending the Final Agreement will not be an easy task.
The question of whether the Maa-nulth have selected enough lands and resources for the many generations to come is a big question that only time will answer. The key these days is diversification of your economy. You can no longer look at just forestry and fishery though Huu-ay-aht has done very well in forestry. Markets have been very volatile and you can’t count on just one or two sectors. Huu-ay-aht just announced a new tourism site on one of their old villages and Ucluelet is also working on tourism. There are some hydro reservations in the treaty for run of the river projects. Another key for the future is of course is to be able to generate more money than you spend. Tsawwassen First Nation is in a great location and has many opportunities around them and will be able to take advantage of many businesses with a good economy. But Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Che:k’tles7et’h’ is quite remote and Uchucklesaht is not on the well beat path either. Therein lies both the challenge and the opportunity.
Change is also the challenge. Changing from being non-taxable in some instances to being taxable on your land, your income and all your purchases will be a big adjustment that will occur in 8 and 12 years. Not having reserves, not being a “band”, learning new processes for holding lands, new names for Chief and Council, having treaty rights instead of aboriginal rights and so on. It will be a lifestyle change.
From what I observed, these Maa-nulth Nations are up for the challenge, are positive about their future and determined to make it work. As my relatives and friends and fellow Nuu-chah-nulth, I wish them only the best for the future and hope that their youth will never have to be warriors, but only builders of self-sustaining Nations.