July 2005

A View on the Inherent Right of Self-Governance vs. the Indian Act System

The word “inherent” means that it already exists as a permanent and inseparable element. It describes the continuing right of governing ourselves as an Indigenous People of the international community.  This right is particularly relevant here in BC where the federal Indian Act system, with its reserves, election system, residential schools, etc was implemented while decidedly sidestepping the underlying Aboriginal title matter.

Some people may question why I keep bringing up the issues of the Indian Act and Aboriginal title, perhaps thinking that I ought to “just leave well-enough alone” and that “the past is the past”. These may be true to a certain extent, however the Indian Act system has had very destructive impacts upon our people as we have gone through the generational transitions of forcefully learning and assimilating to a whole new culture, a whole new way of life.

When the Indian Act system was being implemented in BC, the first generation under the Department of Indian Affiars(DIA) chief and council system were those who could speak, read or write English.  It was a way of gaining an understanding of what the Indian agents and Indian department were doing.  Then it moved toward becoming the current DIA election system and the job was to carry out the policy and programs of the Indian Act.

One of the main purposes of the Indian Act, and therefore, one of its main effects was to sever the tie between indigenous peoples and the territorial lands. Communities have been so busy implementing the Indian Act or having it implemented upon them (i.e., residential school system) that it has been very difficult if not impossible to curb the onslaught of activities upon the lands and resources.

The blanket effect of the Indian Act upon our self-determiniation has been far-reaching and thorough.  That is the past, but it is also the present, and could remain as the future.  In considering our present and future concerns, and knowing that our Ancestors never dealt away with our title or our inherent right of self-determination, we basically have come full circle. We are the ones that have survived. There remain some serious and pressing responsibilities to address.

Here we have been fortunate that many of our surviving Elders have maintained the language and values of our People.  Over the last three years, work with several Elders along with the communities and leadership has produced the ‘Nxékmens I St’at’ímca’ document.  It is written in our language representing the values and ways of our People, and it also incorporates present and future direction.

This year we are looking toward the reality of (re-)establishing a form of tribal governance outside of the Indian Act system. Representatives appointed or elected by the communities for these roles will have the responsibilities of Nation or Tribal concerns. The goal is to have all eleven communities name a representative to the tribal “I St’at’ímca Kukukwpi7a”. To take up again the responsibility of looking after tribal or territorial concerns is to exercise our inherent right of self-governance.

Cathy Narcisse First Published in Bridge River Lillooet News Jully 2005
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