Former NDP MP Nathan Cullen was appointed as liaison between the British Columbia government and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs but was unable to find a compromise. He is under no illusions how hard it will be to reach a new governance structure. “These are not calm waters in which to orient where to sit in the boat,” he said.
But he is clear on one thing: “The Indian Act days are over.”
The poster child for this type of governance reform is the Nisga’a First Nation, which signed a comprehensive self-government agreement with the Crown 20 years ago. Its written constitution combines elected representatives with a hereditary component that, for lack of a better comparison, acts like the House of Lords in the U.K.
The treaty process in Canada has moved at the pace of coastal erosion since the early 1990s. But people who have watched the self-government process unfurl say that there is a clear correlation between the quality of governance and outcomes. Simply put, First Nations that have left the Indian Act behind have performed better in terms of health and wealth. That may be because the Indigenous communities that made the move had a higher capacity and would have excelled in any case. But it is likely the case that power has been wielded more effectively because it is closer to home.