Opinion on Nisga’a Treaty progress mixed

Nisga’a opinion on how life is a decade after the treaty came into effect is mixed, according to a study released this Monday by a public policy research centre.

  • Jun. 30, 2011 11:00 a.m.

Nisga’a opinion on how life is a decade after the treaty came into effect is mixed, according to a study released this Monday by a public policy research centre.

While the Winnipeg-based Frontier Centre for Public Policy’s study on those polled found that health and education services have improved, some respondents found that there was an apparent decline in consultation and that economic conditions have not improved as a result of the treaty that brought in self-government.

Study co-author Joseph Quesnel explained that 121 Nisga’a from the four villages in the Nass Valley – New Aiyansh, Gitwinksihlkw, Laxgalts’ap, and Gingolx – were surveyed over the phone by polling firm COMPAS in the fall of 2010, while an in-depth interview with 15 knowledgeable people, or “key informants”, were conducted in person by him and another associate.

“We sought out people who supported the treaty, and who were against, we tried to get a good balance of men and women, different education levels, but generally we wanted to get people that  very much had the pulse of the community,” he said, explaining that it’s an anonymous survey.

Members from the neighbouring Tsimshian groups were surveyed as well to assess whether the Nisga’a have made greater progress.

“I did see it as a mixed result,” Quesnel said, saying that there was a positive reflection of how people viewed the Nisga’a Lisims Government as certain services were better, but the in-depth interviews showed that some people think problems are persisting.

“Although there is a broad trend that looks positive, there are also  ….’people in the know’ basically saying that there are governance challenges, there’s behavioural challenges that are still going on that need to be dealt with,” he said.

The study also found that nepotism and family-related voting was still impacting politics and business. There was also the suggestion that the creation of an ombudsman-type office or functional Opposition would help to discourage familism and help clarify policy options.

Nisga’a Lisims Government president Mitchell Stevens expressed disappointment in the study.

“It appears that the colourful commentary of a few have caught the headlines in contrast to the purportedly more reliable statistical findings of the report,” he said in a press release. “The Nisga’a Nation has a democratic, accountable system of government, with numerous legal protections in the Nisga’a Constitution and in Nisga’a law to ensure that we remain at all times accountable to Nisga’a citizens.

“We haven’t really had the time to fully digest the report, but there’s a lot of misquotes and wrongs in the report,” he said later, pointing out that the Nisga’a are in the 11th year of the treaty, not the 13th year as written in the report.   He said that while it may seem like the Lisims government was a willing participant and  supports the report, that is not the case.

Stevens also noted that the percentage of those polled in the survey is only a very small percentage of the Nisga’a population.

Quesnel stressed that the study is exploratory research and the timeframe is small for definitive conclusions.

“It shouldn’t be looked at as ‘this is it, this is the definitive statement on the Nisga’a Treaty,’ I think it should start a conversation and lead to other studies,” he said, saying that there’s  a lack of research on how the Nisga’a Treaty is impacting people.

“The Nisga’a have one of the far-reaching governance agreements out there,” Quesnel said. “It was controversial, it still is, so we wanted to see basically, how this model of self-government is working.”

Canada’s first modern-day treaty with the Nisga’a came into effect May 11, 2000. The four Nass Valley villages are now governed by the Nisga’a Lisims Government.

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