Nation Re-building…planning & dialogue

The Assembly of First Nations held its Spring 2011 Planning and Dialogue Forum on Monday and Tuesday of this week.  I was feeling out of touch with the evolution of governance and First Nations economies, so I attended the first day of the Forum.

When I was in the BC Ministry of Advanced Education (as it was then called) we did a lot of work on First Nations capacity development on the post-secondary side in terms of finding ways to support institutions in partnering with First Nations, thus attracting students to post secondary.  I know that this work is continuing.

The session began with a trio of welcomes:  Chief Ian Campbell of the Squamish Nation, Cliff Atleo (elder and father of Shawn), and Jody Wilson-Raybould, BC Regional Chief.

The morning keynote was delivered by Dr. Stephen Cornell, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona.  He spoke about the research and ongoing work of the Institute in supporting American Tribes in National Re-building.  His main messages were that there is a quiet revolution happening across North America in tribes re-building their nations and that it is “all about governance”.

Dr. Cornell gave us an extensive tour across North America of tribes who are successfully re-bulding their nations:  Citizen Potawatomi Nation in Oklahoma who now own local food stores, the radio station and the First National Bank;  Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe who run Eagle Valley Outfitters — 10,000 years (!!) of Outdoor Experience and also created and run their own pharmacy and housing development and the list goes on.

While business, culture, health, families, justice, education and land/animals are all important, the bottom line in successful nation re-building is how you organize yourself — the governance.

So Dr. Cornell emphasized the key importance of systematically building governance capacity.

“Nations that govern well — that make good rules and live by them — do better in the long run”.

If you don’t address the governance problem, you won’t solve the health problem, for example.

His definition of governance:  “how you translate the will of the nation into organized, sustained and effective action.”  Governing tools and mechanisms need to be right for each nation.

Dr. Cornell left us with 4 questions:

1.  What does governance mean in your community?

2.  Have you considered sharing governing with other nations?  In other words, re-constituting the nation.

3.  Are you creating the governance tools that you need?

4.  If you are looking for effective governing tools, does the Indian Act provide you with the tools?

His parting shot was his view of the Indian Act in Canada:

  • it is someone else’s idea,
  • it screws up accountability — doesn’t adequately bring decisions and consequences together, and,
  • it is a lousy governance machine.

I found the governance discussion to be very useful for all of us to consider.  I was sitting at a table with Chief Anne Mack from the Toquaht First Nation in Ucluelet.    In 2008 the provincial government ratified the Maa-nulth Treaty – a treaty under which the band secured 1,600 hectares of land, including 46 kilometres of oceanfront property along Toquart Bay, in Barkley Sound.

Anne and her colleagues begin their serious nation re-building on April 1 of this year so she was at this Forum to learn more about what lies ahead.   I learned from a web search that Anne is a mother of six daughters. She earned an undergraduate degree in sociology and anthropology took over the hereditary chieftainship from her father Bert Mack who at 85 had served his community for 67 years as hereditary Chief.

I wish Chief Mack and the Toquaht First Nation well in their endeavours.

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