On Tue. Feb. 6, from 1-8 pm Nak’azdli Whut’en hosted a World Café style community meeting for all its members to provide input about their priorities for Nak’azdli Whut’en to inform development of its own laws for Reserve Lands and ensure that the process is driven by the will of the community.
It was a snowy afternoon and evening, but members still managed to come out to Kwah Hall. Using a World Café style meeting provided a safe and confidential process for gathering thoughts and ideas on issues that exist on Reserve Lands. All written notes remains anonymous and this feedback is held in confidence. Input was organised into four topics: Reserve Land Code; Community Policing and Enforcement; Environmental Issues and Community Land Use Planning.
Chief and Council and the Reserve Lands Advisory Committee have directed the Capital Lands Manager, together with Land Code development staff to solicit the input, thoughts and ideas from the community and to incorporate all that information in the future direction of Nak’azdli Whut’en.
Federal to community
“The first step was we signed on to the First Nations Land Management Act in November 2016 as ratified by our community members,” says George HoLem, Capital Lands Manager. Nak’azdli Whut’en had an overwhelming majority of members respond that they wanted to engage the process, so they have started developing a foundation for a Land Reserve Code, an official document that defines the parameters of the process of law making in a way that addresses issues according to what members say is important to them.
“The purpose of the whole process is to transition the jurisdiction of our Reserve Lands from the Federal government to self governance by our own community and its leaders,” says HoLem. “The Reserve Land Code will be the basic land law of Nak’azdli Whut’en. It replaces land management provisions of the Indian Act.”
“Where we are today with developing the Reserve Land Code, is historic. It is the first time we are getting to say what we want to do with the land. It is a big milestone as Nak’azdli Whut’en begins to transition the jurisdiction from INAC (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) overseeing how we operate our business, to the community ourselves having jurisdiction of our own lands,” says HoLem.
The Land Code will not affect treaty rights or taxation. With a Reserve Land Code the major difference will be empowerment of community leaders. If Chief and Council want a law established they currently have to make an application to INAC (formerly DIA) and then INAC would make the ruling. “We don’t have to do that with a land code.”
Community direction for provisions of the Reserve Land Code will help Nak’azdli Whut’en develop more laws for enhanced enforcement and better quality of life and support development of partnerships with other communities.
“Even though we’re divided by Kwah road, Nak’adli Whut’en and the District of Fort St. James township, we are basically all one community. While I don’t like to recognise the boundaries fully, there are also [Reserve Lands] provisions that need to be taken care of. But it’s a good time right now for our community leaders, we are renewing old partnerships and building new ones. There will be a lot of work that will be done in conjunction with our communities,” says HoLem.
At the first input meeting the concern about needing laws for a drug-free community was identified on all topics. “Laws are only good if you can enforce them,” says HoLem. Historically, the RCMP’s hands have been tied in term of policing illegal activity on Reserve Lands. With specific provisions developed by Nak’azdli Whut’en members for how they would like their Reserve Land Code applied, the community will be able to enforce their own laws by working in partnership and with support of local law enforcement and the backup of the provincial court system.
“Both players have agreed to participate,” says HoLem, “And once our Reserve Land Code laws are enacted, violations of those laws can be enforced with the help of the Fort St. James detachment. If charges are laid for contravention of our Reserve Land Code laws, then the provincial court system will process it and make a determination. If there is a fine, those revenues will come back to our community.”
When the new laws are introduced and taken to the first reading, there might be some difference of opinion among members. “All the members have the right to be heard,” says HoLem, “How we deal with [disagreement] isn’t necessarily a majority vote.” Decisions will be made by putting Dakelh values and traditions first.
“We are going to build in much cultural, traditional and hereditary ways that we dealt with crime, that we dealt with community conflict, so we will empower our own community leaders to decide how to govern the laws in the best interests of the community. There will be a strong shift from DIA [INAC] mentality to hereditary mentality.”
Engaging the future
George HoLem is excited about engaging the future. “We’ve made a good start. We’ve taken on a relatively new community driven process. My vision is to start creating a very healthy and culturally flavoured environment for our reserve lands it will be extended to all of our traditional territories and how we regulate ourselves and all of our territories,” he said.
World Café Part 2
The second community input meeting on the Reserve Land Code is taking place in conjunction with the Nak’azdli Whut’en AGM on Fri. March 2, 9:00 a.m. – 4 p.m at Kwah Hall. All members are encouraged to participate.