Skip to content

Looking back on 20 years of self-government

The faceless wooden figures symbolizing the Sechelt First Nations people's lost identities under the federal Indian Act are once again getting a visit from the chief.

The faceless wooden figures symbolizing the Sechelt First Nations people's lost identities under the federal Indian Act are once again getting a visit from the chief. Now, two decades later, they stand across from detailed carvings with faces of a young warrior, a headman and a mother representing self-sufficiency under the self-government model.

This coming week on Oct. 9, the Sechelt Nation will celebrate its 20th year of self-government. The Sechelts' unique self-government legislation, Bill C-93, was proclaimed in 1986 after decades of struggle for independence by elders and previous councils.

Negotiations with the federal government began in the '70s when the Sechelt Indian Band fought for and eventually achieved taxation authority over its leaseholders - revenue that had previously gone to Ottawa. The logical next step was self-government.

"Bill C-93 is simply the product of our growth and the next step in our evolution," Stan Dixon, chief both then and today, said in an address to the standing committee on Indian Affairs in the '80s. "We do not forget the past, but we cannot live in it. Times change and so must we. If we do not, if we do not take charge of ourselves, we will surely perish. There is no culture or dignity in welfare, and there is no such thing as a free lunch. We have gone as far as we can under the Indian Act and we are ready for the next step."

Later in his address he explained to the committee what self-government would mean to the Sechelt people."Self-government to us is the acceptance of responsibility for our community well-being, to increase both community and individual opportunity, to work with our neighbouring communities to improve the quality of life for all citizens."

The council at the time included Lloyd Jeffries, Warren Paull, Ben Pierre Sr. and Clarence Joe Jr. This week, Paull looked back at how far the Sechelt Nation had come and how much work still needs to be done.

Negotiations with the federal and provincial governments really got going in 1982, Paull recalled. In order to move forward, the Band needed to be outside of the Indian Act, Paull added, noting the Indian Act was a paternalistic document.

"We were ready to take the next step," Paull stated. Once the Band's constitution was drafted, it went out to the Sechelt Band membership, which was dispersed across the country, for approval. Of the 220 registered voters, 201 voted: 193 yes, 8 no.

Self-government means "control over our own destinies," Paul explained, and to "be able to pick our own path and be able to exercise it."

Implementing the self-government legislation into new bylaws involved a great deal of learning.

"We had a lot of learning to do and we're still learning today." Today, the Band is looking at how to improve the flexibility of the Band's constitution and bring it up to date. Paull emphasized that self-government is completely separate from the land claims process.

The Sechelts chose a municipal model for its self-government. Harold Fletcher became the administrator for the new Sechelt Indian Government District in 1988 and continues his work today giving presentations on the structure of the SIGD. He explained the implementation process was like starting up a new municipality, where there are no existing bylaws.

"Everything was created right then and there while I was there," Fletcher recalled. The self-government model allows the Sechelt Nation to run its own affairs, he explained. "It wasn't a template for other Bands; it was a unique statute for this Band that was negotiated for this Band."

The Sechelt Indian Band Self-Government Act was negotiated with the federal government. Following that, the provincial government recognized the model through the Sechelt Indian Government District Enabling Act, which was renewed for another 20 years this January. The federal act governs the powers of the SIB and SIGD, Fletcher explained. The provincial act brought municipal status to the SIGD and allows the SIGD a seat at the Sunshine Coast Regional District board table. The chief of the Band effectively also becomes the mayor of the SIGD, and Band council members also make up the SIGD district council. An advisory council to the SIGD council gives a voice to the lessees living on Band lands.

The SIB governs finance and administration, land and housing, education, fish and wildlife management, recreation and culture, social services, natural resource management and health. The SIGD controls land use planning, taxation, public works, business licensing and building regulations.

Back at the field beside the community hall, Dixon sits among the faded and aged wooden figures, carved by Jamie Jeffries and Frank Dixon, which he hopes will be immortalized into stone. He imagines what the next two decades could bring to the Sechelts.

"I would like us to see education as our priority for the next 20 years. I want to see us in 20 years be the most educated Band in Canada. That's my dream."

"It takes everybody to make self-government, not one guy," Dixon said, "ul'num-chalap [thank you]."