Angela Wesley: Huu-ay-aht First Nations' Forging of a New Governance System

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Native Nations Institute
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Angela Wesley, Chair of Huu-ay-aht Constitution Committee, discusses the painstaking effort the Huu-ay-aht First Nations undertook to develop a new constitution and system of governance, and how they continue to work to turn the promise of self-governance embodied in their new constitution into governance practice.

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Native Nations
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Wesley, Angela. "Huu-ay-aht First Nations' Forging of a New Governance System." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 4, 2013. Interview.

Ian Record:

“Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I’m your host Ian Record. On today’s program we are honored to have with us Angela Wesley. Angela is a proud member of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation and has worked since 1980 with First Nations communities throughout British Columbia. Since 1992, she has been providing advisory and facilitation services in the areas of strategic planning, community development, communications and community engagement as well as governance capacity building. In recent years, her focus has been on providing assistance to her own nation as well as the other four First Nations that are signatory to the Maa-nulth Treaty. As Chair of the Huu-ay-aht Constitution Committee and member of the Huu-ay-aht Treaty Governance and Lands Resources Committees, she was instrumental in the development and community ratification of the treaty, the Huu-ay-aht First Nations Constitution and a suite of foundational laws that set the stage for her nation’s return to self governance as of April 1st, 2011. Angela, welcome and good to have you with us today.”

Angela Wesley:

“Thank you. It’s great to be here.”

Ian Record:

“So I went through your rather voluminous bio and shared some of the highlights, but why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit more about yourself. What did I leave out?”

Angela Wesley:

“I think you pretty much covered it. Some of the things that I’ve done more recently, or that I’m involved in more recently, involve being involved on some boards. And one of the things that I’m really liking doing right now is venturing into the academic world a little bit and I’m chair of the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology as well, which is a public post-secondary institute in British Columbia that was founded by First Nations in the interior of BC [British Columbia]. So I’m really starting to see my abilities to cross over and start sharing information on governance through that field as well, so really an exciting new eye opener for me and a new venture for me.”

Ian Record:

“So we’re here to talk about governance reform, constitutional reform and specifically the work that your nation has been involved in in arriving to the point it’s at today. And I’m curious -- let’s start at the beginning -- what prompted your nation to consider going down the reform road to begin with?”

Angela Wesley:

“Well, I think…it’s a bit different in Canada than it is in the [United] States, where we didn’t have constitutions as I understand tribal governments in the States do. Really we were embarking on nation rebuilding. The constitution was one piece of what we were doing in rebuilding our nation. Our nation was involved in treaty negotiations and has been involved in the BC Treaty Commission process since about the early 1990s. So in thinking about where we wanted to go and really thinking about the vision for our nation, that’s what sort of prompted us to look overall at our nation and what needed to change. As we got deeper into our treaty negotiation process, we realized that we really needed to reform our government and start to rebuild our nation into something that meets the vision of our community. We started off I think back in the 1990s -- and not to say we didn’t always have a vision -- but we started to try to articulate that and bring that to our people and to say, ‘Where is it that we want to go as a nation? Clearly we have some healing that we need to do. We need to change the way we do business.’ So we really spent a lot of time talking to our people about what we wanted for the future, and our vision statement is not dissimilar to almost any First Nations’ vision statement, where we want a healthy community, we want to be able to govern ourselves, we want to make our own decisions, we want to set our own priorities, we want to revive and strengthen our language and our culture and we want opportunities for our people for the future. And that really set the tone for an entire nation rebuilding process I think.”

Ian Record:

“So it became obvious very early on that, 'If we’re going to fully engage in the treaty process and take advantage of that opportunity, we need to jettison the Indian Act system altogether and develop one that reflects who we are and where we want to head.'”

Angela Wesley:

“Absolutely. One of the biggest pieces that we were looking at or one of the bigger pieces we were looking at in treaty is the ability to have self government. We struggled originally in our treaty negotiations. We were being told by Canada that they wanted to keep self government outside of the treaty and that was a show stopper for us. Unless self government was included in the treaty and protected by the Constitution of Canada, we weren’t going to have a treaty. So on the basis that that was something that was so important to us we realized that we needed to start building our constitution and talking about what we wanted from our government in the future.”

Ian Record:

“We’re talking a lot at this seminar that the Native Nations Institute is holding on constitutions and the importance of process, that often for many Native nations, whether in U.S. or Canada or elsewhere, that there’s a broad recognition among people in the community that our current system is not working for us, it’s not going to get us where we need to head, but then a lot of folks have difficulty getting from that point to the point of a new system. Can you talk about the process that your nation devised to develop this new constitution, to engage in this nation rebuilding effort?”

Angela Wesley:

“Sure. I just want to start by talking about maybe there wasn’t such a broad recognition by our citizens of the situation that we were in and I think that sort of formed the basis of how we approached communication with our citizens as well. We started off, we have a general, what we called a 'band meeting' at the time, and I give a lot of credit to our leadership at the time and our former chief counselor Robert Dennis, Sr. was very instrumental in putting a process in place that the people would feel comfortable with. So it was opened up to the floor and it was the citizens that appointed the committee that was going to look at the constitution and we were told to go and find out what people wanted. So we were given a lot of flexibility and latitude in terms of how we approached things. So we really sat down, we talked as a committee about what it was that we wanted to achieve. We talked about our vision, the need to really get people to understand that that was the basis of moving forward was that we all had this collective vision and it was a vision of the people, it wasn’t a vision of a specific government or a specific council and I think that’s how we started. We did a lot of research, we looked at constitutions of other nations, we talked about other peoples’ experiences, and really what we started with was a questionnaire process. Once we had talked we went and did a little bit of interviewing and speaking with our people about the vision and is that in fact what we wanted. I don’t think anybody could argue with that’s what we wanted, we want to change our world, we want a better place for future generations. And everybody agreed with that.

So having said that, then we started to probe a little bit further, what people wanted from their government. So we started with a very intensive questionnaire process, and I always give credit to a young woman in our tribe, Trudy Warner. She was in her 20s at the time and very enthusiastic. She was working with us and she was assigned to the committee to be our administrative support. She ended up taking a questionnaire around, and I don’t think it was so important what was in the questionnaire as the fact that we went out and talked to people about it. So we devised some questions, some of them were good, some of them not so good, but it opened up the doors for people to start to tell us what it was that they wanted. We asked about terms of council, we asked about what kind of ethical behavior we expected of council, we asked about what kind of terms we thought would be appropriate, we asked about how disputes might be resolved, we asked about how to incorporate our traditional hereditary system into our government, which was huge for us. That was one of the things we really wanted to do. So we engaged in a process of communicating with our numbers over a long period of time. We probably did this over five to seven years on and off; it wasn’t consistent. We were a committee and we were limited by finances and what we could do; it was very expensive. We have probably 80 to 85 percent of our people living away from home, so it involved going out and going to the people or bringing them in, which was very, very expensive as well. But we really, we talked a lot to our people, we talked…we brought that back and we talked as a committee about what that meant and what did our people really want. I think that some of what we found was that what I started with is that people didn’t really understand the system that we were under. We’re so used to blaming our band councils for things that go wrong without understanding that the Indian Act is behind all of that and that our councils really are structured under an Indian Act system that so clearly does not work for us, that oppressed us for so many years. And that’s what our people grew up with. So a lot of people didn’t know about our traditional systems, they didn’t know how we used to govern ourselves. All they knew was this oppressive system that we’d lived under that had hurt them in huge ways.

So sort of interesting, maybe to back up a little bit to the questionnaire process, our young citizen went out door to door, bless her heart, by herself and knocked on people’s doors and said, ‘I have this questionnaire and it’s my job to come and talk to our citizens about what it is you’d like to see in government.’ And she heard a lot of venting. So we tried to give her a lot of support and told her to…not to react, don’t get defensive, don’t feel like you have to defend the council for things that happened 30 years ago, but listen, allow people to say what’s on their mind and bring that back to us, because that’s all relevant to what we need to change in the future.' Along with that commitment from the committee, she also had a commitment from our chief councilor at the time, who said that, ‘If somebody needs to talk to me, come back and tell me. Don’t take it on for me, but I will go.’ And he made that commitment and he did go and follow up with people, which was huge. So once people had a chance to get some of that stuff out that they had been holding on to a lot of times for 30, 40 years -- people had gone…been taken out of our community, they’d gone to residential school, they’d seen what had happened to their parents and grandparents in the community and they’d gone from there and never come home. So these are people who have memories from the past that aren’t good memories in a lot of cases. So we were able to get through a lot of that. When people had the chance to just say that and get it off their chest with nobody trying to defend how they feel, then they kind of went, ‘Oh, okay.’ And they would say to Trudy, ‘Well, what are you here for?’ She’d say, ‘Well, I have this questionnaire.’ And they’d say, ‘Oh, come in. Who are you and what family are you from?’ And there was this warmth all of a sudden that, ‘Come and have a cup of coffee and do what we do traditionally,’ is share information. So she was able to, I think, with her personality, with her youth, with her enthusiasm and with the commitments and backing that she had from the committee and from our leadership was able to break through in a lot of cases and make people feel Huu-ay-aht again. We actually had people say, ‘I didn’t think I was Huu-ay-aht anymore, I didn’t think anybody cared about me. But I was important enough, somebody came to my house and talked to me about these things.’ It was a huge breakthrough for us.

Ian Record:

“It’s interesting you bring up this thing about recognition. My experience in the many nations I’ve worked with on constitutional reform -- primarily in the United States -- has been that people in the community fixate on the symptoms of dysfunction, which typically means they focus on the council, ‘Everything that’s wrong with us is because of the council,’ when they don’t…it’s very difficult for them to draw that connection back to the roots of the dysfunction, which in many cases are an imposed system of governance. How important was it for you guys to shift that focus in your community to show people that, ‘Look, at the root of what ails us, what’s holding us back,’ if you will, ‘from rebuilding our community into something that we think is important and is culturally relevant is this system that is not of our own design.’”

Angela Wesley:

“It was the foundation of our communications, both in our constitutional communications as well as in our treaty negotiations. We just felt that it was so important for us to realize that there was no way out of that system unless we created something ourselves, and that’s what we were trying to do through treaty negotiations, to be able to get governance tools, access to lands and resources, additional financial boosts that could help us to move forward and to create that economy for our people. So in order to do that, we had to show that there was nothing in the current system that we could see that was going to allow us to dig ourselves out and to be able to change our world. We needed something else to add to it and having governance, having good governance in place through our constitution together with having some extra tools, access to lands and resources, recognition of our rights, the ability to build the economy was what was going to change our situation. And like I said, so many of our people just had no idea what the problems were and when we started to talk about that I think it really opened eyes and gained a lot of support. And the support wasn’t 100 percent. A lot of people were taking a leap of faith. We were creating trust through doing this kind of communications with our people and saying, ‘Can you give us a chance? This is what we think is going to help us to change our world. Let’s do all of this together.’ So that was…it was really the root of what we were communicating to our people is that how else are we going to change, how else are we going to change our social situation because it’s not good the way it is right now.”

Ian Record:

I wanted to back up to something you said earlier about the importance for Huu-ay-aht of having this new governance system that you were creating be an expression of the people’s will and not necessarily an expression of political will, meaning you wanted to ensure that it was the product of the people as a whole versus the product of a particular council or particular elected official or someone else. And we’ve seen where other nations have succeeded with constitutional development or reform, that recognition going into the process, that we’re going to sabotage our own effort if this either becomes politicized or becomes viewed as a politicized process at the very beginning. Can you speak a little bit more about why that is so critical to sort of make sure that the process itself is an apolitical process in how you guys ensured that you insulated it from sort of the political impulses along the way?”

Angela Wesley:

“Yeah, it probably was a key to our success in terms of the communication or in terms of the approval and ratification of the constitution. I can’t give enough credit I think to our leadership to be able to have stood back not only from the process of building a constitution, but also recognizing that we were trying to incorporate in some fashion our hereditary system back into our government or at least the ability to do that as time went on into the future. And again our chief councilor at the time is a very traditional individual as well. He’s a historian for our tribe and I think that really helped to show people that we were really trying to do what was best for the nation. So there wasn’t political interference, but there was huge political support for developing that system and I think that the leadership showed that they weren’t afraid, that they weren’t afraid of the changes that were coming up because this was what was the best for the nation. So the separation is good, but the leadership was such a critical element of it as well to be able to stand up and really support what we were doing.”

Ian Record:

“It’s interesting you keep using the word 'support,' because where we see tribes succeed is where the elected leadership plays a supportive role, not a directive role. Where we see tribes struggle is where the reform process is quickly viewed by people in the community as just another initiative by the current leadership that’s in charge. Do you see that as crucial…where do you see that as maybe sending a message to the people in terms of, ‘This is something that’s so critical that it’s got to be bigger than us as a group of leaders, it’s got to be about the nation as a whole?’ Did people kind of stand back and say, ‘Wait a minute. This is a real opportunity for us to re-engage, to have our voices heard,' as you mentioned? You mentioned the one person saying, ‘Wow, my government’s never asked me for my opinion on anything before,’ to say it’s not just a command and control decision anymore, this is going to happen from the ground up.”

Angela Wesley:

“We really…it is critical. We really emphasized that with our people as well to say when and who have you ever seen that’s had the opportunity to say how it is that we want to be governed as a nation. To take advantage, we encouraged people to take advantage of that possibility; we encouraged people to use their voices in a positive way. The system that we were in, I think, really led people to be complaining about things all the time. There was no way out, there was no way to resolve disputes, they just went on and on and on. And to have us going out into our community and talking to people about solutions and to have them feeding into, ‘Okay, if that didn’t work, what can work and how can it work better for us, how can we take how we used to govern because it sustained us for thousands of years, how can we take those principles and those values and move them into our government of today so that we can do things better?’ And I think people understood that and it didn’t even really become a visible issue of, ‘Oh, it’s not the politicians that are involved in this?’ People just started to engage because they liked the conversation. So I don’t think it was so much a factor that people hung anything on the process and said, ‘Well, the politics aren’t involved.’ I think they just started liking having the conversation and started feeling more and more comfortable with it. Probably one of the earliest things that people really responded to was the chapter in our constitution that talks about individual rights, to actually see in black and white that people would be treated equally, that they would have equal opportunities within the nation as citizens of the nation; that really sparked something. So starting there, having that conversation as a basis for our communication on the constitution was really, I think, winning as well.

I think people really felt that it was something that was going to reflect what it is they wanted. Because when you go out…we often talk about how you explain such complex matters to people who are just trying to get by in their lives and we really chose to try to make our communications really relevant as opposed to saying, ‘This is what provision 16 is going to say in legal language.’ We tried to keep our constitution as plain language as possible and to make it relevant to people because that’s their question, ‘What does this mean to me and my family? How is this going to change the world? How is this going to protect the assets of our nation for future generations, for those who aren’t born yet?’ Those are the kind of things that were on people’s minds. So having the conversation around those kind of things as opposed to around what the provision is going to say, we tried to capture what people were saying and put it into the language.”

Ian Record:

“It’s interesting you bring that up because often the refrain that we hear in many Native communities -- particularly those that are struggling with reform -- is a sense among many in the community that they simply don’t understand why they should even care about the constitution. They have no sense of how it impacts their daily life, the current constitution and how a new constitution could improve their daily life, and so forth. And it sounds like that was at the forefront of your mind as you went into this process, is to educate people about and making sure that the deliberations were accessible so they could understand, ‘This is how this new system will improve your situation individually, your family’s situation, and the nation’s situation as a whole.’”

Angela Wesley:

“I think so, and I think that people saw that this was a way of helping to make our governments, future governments and present governments, more accountable to the people. The way the Indian Act is set up right now, your funding flows from the federal government to the council. So the accountability of councils in a legal sense is right back to the Ministry of Indian Affairs, and there’s really not a whole lot of concern on the part of the department as to whether you are accountable back to your citizens. It’s becoming more and more prominent now, but…and it’s also becoming more and more of a practice among First Nations to be accountable to their people. So despite the fact that it’s not really a requirement -- although Canada has paid a lot of attention to that in recent years -- nations are becoming more accountable to their citizens and citizens are demanding that accountability. And I think the constitution strengthens that and allows us to do it… to have councils be accountable in a way that is acceptable to the people. What are you going to report to us, when you are going to report to us, to see that these things have to happen? They have to happen according to our own laws, not according to the Indian Act or Ministry of Indian Affairs. It’s because this is what our people want.”

Ian Record:

“It sounds like things have gone well with your nation in terms of governance reform, really governance rebirth, if you will. But I’m sure at some point you encountered some challenges.”

Angela Wesley:

“Oh, absolutely.”

Ian Record:

“And given that it took you seven years, I’m sure there were lots of challenges, a lot of bumps in the road along the way. Can you talk about some of the biggest challenges that you faced in the reform process and how you worked to overcome those?”

Angela Wesley:

“Well, I think the whole...in terms of our community, I think what I’ve just been talking about in terms of the understanding or lack of understanding of the reality of our situation was probably the biggest hurdle that we had to overcome in the development process. We did end up with a high approval rate of our constitution and of our treaty, and I think it was just our people agreeing that we needed to take this leap of faith, that this was our chance to try to do something for ourselves and to do it our way. So I think that that was a big leap of faith.”

Ian Record:

“That sounds to me like that was an initial challenge of getting the people to recognize the reality of their situation, of just how pervasive the Indian Act…how it affected them in so many ways that they may not have been aware of. But how about when you got really into the process full-bore, you got beyond that initial education, were there some other obstacles you encountered, external factors, internal factors that threatened to derail the process?”

Angela Wesley:

“You know, politics will always sort of pop up and matters become more urgent as time goes on, but I think that by and large, given the process that we went through, I think we were able to overcome any kind of hurdles. I think that the committee that was put in place and the leadership that we had in place was able to work together to understand that we were there to support each other and that made a lot of difference, I think, to how we approached when we were getting towards the end when it’s sort of crunch time and you’re going to start looking at going into a vote. There was some apprehension on the part of our leadership and our council maybe that, ‘Where is this going to go?’ They were sort of feeling like any arrows that were going to come were going to come towards them and we said to them, ‘Well, we’re the ones as a committee that should be taking some responsibility, and feel comfort in the fact that we’re happy to stand up in front of our people and explain why the constitution is the way it is,’ and it is entirely because of what it was that people wanted in our government in the future together with trying to build a system of good governance. So I think we overcame those.

The challenges I guess that we’re looking at now, we’re two years into being self-government or self-governing and it’s hard. We didn’t expect it was going to be easy. This I think now is when we’re starting to face the challenges, when we realize what it means to be fair, to treat people equally. When those things that our people told us that they wanted, it now takes much longer to make a decision because you have to go through, you have to be transparent, you have to treat people equally. There aren’t exceptions. If there’s an exception for one [person], you’ve got to think of how that’s going to happen and play out for the rest of the citizens as well. So what all sounds really good and is really good takes a different process and takes a different way to be able to move forward. So I think we’re having those kind of challenges right now.

I’m seeing…I’m not working directly in my nation right now, but I’m still always very connected. I’m working with our economic development side now actually, so sort of shifted over into that. But you see our leadership struggling. They want to do things right. They want to follow our laws. And I think if there’s things that can be learned, it’s to really think about what this is going to mean as you’re drafting your laws, because I think in some places we found that we’re almost overly accountable and what we don’t want to do is to constrain ourselves with our own laws. But the beauty of being self-governing is that we can change those things if and when we need to. And recognizing that I think is a big part of our learning curve.

So being self-governing doesn’t mean that everything is working perfectly for us right now -- far from it -- and when will we ever be doing things perfectly? No government ever runs perfectly. But we certainly feel better, I don’t think that there’s a person in our nation that thinks that we made the wrong decision in taking on self-government and doing it for ourselves. It’s hard, it’s going to be difficult for us as we continue to move on but we’re getting better at it every day.”

Ian Record:

“So it sounds to me given that you’re just about two years now into your new governance reality, if you will, that your nation is still working to grow into its new constitutional skin, its new governance skin, it’s going through those growing pains of actually transforming that document on paper into practice.”

Angela Wesley:

“Oh, definitely.”

Ian Record:

“And this is something we hear from a lot of other folks, we’ve worked with a number of tribes who are now three, six, ten years into their new constitution and system of governance and they describe this same sort of dynamic taking place, where it’s one thing to have a new constitution and it’s quite another to actually live that in practice. And I would imagine for you as with other…some of these other nations, you’re really…the larger task really is to transform the political culture that has been in place in your community for so long, the Indian Act culture. In the U.S., for many tribes it’s the Indian Reorganization Act political culture, where suddenly you can no longer go to the council for absolutely everything that ails you, every problem you have. Now there’s processes in place that you have to follow. Can you maybe shed a little more insight into how that’s unfolding in your community, and I would imagine it entails an ongoing education challenge does it not?”

Angela Wesley:

“It is. It’s definitely a learning curve. Under the Indian Act, as we’re hearing in the courses through NNI and the kind of sessions that we’re in today, you need to put up the mirror sometimes and see how it is that you’re operating. Councils are expected to do everything. That’s the history of most First Nations in Canada and I assume in the U.S., and transforming at the leadership level into being visionaries and creating the environment to succeed is a really difficult thing to do, because citizens still expect you to go and take care of everything, all of the things that are going on in the community. So it’s difficult for citizens because they can’t do that anymore, and it’s difficult for leadership to try to let that go and to put the administrative systems in place that allow the questions to be answered and that allow…give citizens a place to go to get their questions answered instead of to the political side. So it is, it’s a transition; it’s a huge transformation. It’s a new way of doing business and operating our government. So it’s…I give a lot of credit to our leadership in trying to get through that and trying to remind themselves every day that they need to show citizens where they need to go to get their questions answered as opposed to coming to them, because that’s the critical part is that you can’t leave our citizens hanging, they’ve got to have somewhere that they can go and that’s the council’s role.”

Ian Record:

“And I would imagine this clarification, redefinition and then ongoing clarification of the new roles within your new system is absolutely critical, because as you’ve laid out, your governance, your new governance system is expected to achieve far more ambitious things than the previous system was under the Indian Act. You’re tasking your governance system and the leaders who lead that system with creating this brighter future of your own design. And so I think this point that you brought up is absolutely crucial, where you’ve got to make sure that you create the space for your leadership to be visionary and to actually figure out, how do we implement the vision that we’ve created for ourselves for our own future?”

Angela Wesley:

“Yes, definitely. And being able to feel comfort in the organization that we set up is the other big part of it as well. You can put your constitution in place, but unless you’ve got an effective administration as well to be able to take care of that…we had to do a lot of reorganizing at our administrative level as well. We had a typical First Nation operation or band council operation or band administration, where we had our band manager who had everybody in the organization reporting to them. So that person as well needed to be able to focus on making sure that the council’s wishes and directions are undertaken and that’s what their role is as well. So there’s a shift in roles all throughout the organization. People have to learn new things. People who are really good at managing resources now also have to learn how to manage people. So it’s a shift at all levels within the government and that’s going to take time, and I think we need to go easy on ourselves a little bit in these early years and just realize that we need to relearn a lot of things and we need to learn how to do business effectively and efficiently for the benefit of our citizens.”

Ian Record:

“So a couple things out of that. One is that I think what you’re referring to is what we’ve heard from other folks from Native nations who’ve been involved in reform efforts is you’ve got to in many instances dial back expectations, that just because you have a new constitution doesn’t mean everyone’s problems are going to be solved overnight. There is going to be a learning curve, we’re going to make some false steps, we’re going to do two steps forward, one step back kind of thing, but the idea is that we’re in charge now and if we find that something in the new constitution isn’t working, as you mentioned, that we have the power to change it.”

Angela Wesley:

“And it’s not… in our case it’s not only the constitution, it’s the treaty as well, which both came in place at the same time. Probably one of the biggest lessons learned is to have not only that reorganizational plan in place to get your government ready, but also to start getting the economic side and getting that plan in place as well and start to make sure that there’s even small steps towards making changes that people will see some of the early things that we’re able to change that made a difference to our people. As we changed things like our education policies, we weren’t able to fund trades before and now we have the flexibility to be able to do that. So we’ve made little changes like that that make a difference to the people and to plan to do things like that to start to address some things that you can point to to say to your people, ‘Yes, things are working differently now. We are making small steps and hopefully as we continue to grow and build our economy, we’ll have lots of successes that we can look at and that’s going to happen over time.’”

Ian Record:

“The other thing I wanted to bring up from your previous response is you mentioned that the band manager, their reality has changed because of this new governance system, and I think that that’s often lost on folks is that this new constitution, this new system of government, it will definitely change the role of leadership or clarify perhaps the role of leaders and it will transform…it will necessarily transform the expectations citizens need to have of their government, but really what you’re saying is that it’s going to change reality for everyone that is either part of the nation, works for the nation, or interacts with the nation. And can you talk a little bit about how I guess compare and contrast the new governance reality at Huu-ay-aht with the old governance reality? Say I came and visited the community under the Indian Act system and I had to work with the band government on something and now I’m getting ready to come back, I call you on the phone and say, ‘What should I expect, how are things going to be different for me if I have to come and work with the nation on this particular issue?’”

Angela Wesley:

“I think there’s a lot of fundamental differences, and we’re getting used to working within a new system as well. Having a treaty, having the constitution to go along with it and having a whole new set of laws, things have to be done differently. It’s not as easy now as going up and calling all the council members together and sit down and, ‘We have this new initiative we want you to look at.’ There’s a lot of things that need to go into it before it gets to that council level so the way of doing business. Do you need a permit to be able to go out and do certain things on the land? Do you need to be talking with our manager of natural resources to get all of those kind of things in place? Nothing goes before our council now without a full briefing note and some options that are provided to them so that they’re making decisions based on full information. One of the things that’s in our Government Act is a requirement for the way decisions are made and it’s actually written into our legislation of what needs to be considered at the council level in making a decision particular, well about anything, but particularly in relation to things that require money. Have you got all of the information that you need in order to make the decision? Have you looked at what the impact is on other programs? Where is the funding going to come from? Are there other options here? Is there a need to consult the community on this? What kind of impacts…there’s a whole list of those things that are in the laws. So it’s our law that requires those things get done and that means a much more thorough process is required. So things are different, things take longer and hopefully we can refine that as things go along, but it’s probably better to walk on the side of caution a little bit first, at the same time being able to move forward economically and be able to make those changes in our nation.”

Ian Record:

“So I mentioned in the introduction that you have been intricately involved in your nation’s development of a whole new suite of foundational laws. You get the new treaty in place; you get the new constitution in place. Where did you guys focus your lawmaking energy at the beginning? What to you was, ‘We’ve got to address these issues right now. There’s nothing on the books that helps us deal with X, Y and Z.'”

Angela Wesley:

“What we did in approaching our lawmaking was to look at the real critical areas. We had gone through a process that I described of creating trust in from our citizens that we were going to do things right. So the first laws that we put in place were, we called them 'laws that govern our government,' because people were a little afraid. What are these new laws going to be and are we going to be expected to have all these new laws in place that we need to know. We thought it was really important that we put in place laws that show our people that our government needs to be accountable. So we have things like a Government Act, a Code of Conduct and Conflict of Interest, Election Act, Citizenship Act, all of those kind of really foundational pieces. We didn’t start touching the bigger areas that we now have lawmaking authorities under like adoption, child welfare, education, culture and language. We’ve got lawmaking in a lot of areas, but we decided first that we need to continue to build the trust of our government and allow our government some time to settle in to governing well. So we really put laws, a lot of laws in place that talk about how our government operates and how they’re to be accountable back to the people.”

Ian Record:

“So basically what it sounds like you’re saying is you worked to enhance the lawmaking engine to then make laws in the areas where you had newfound or newly affirmed powers.”

Angela Wesley:

“Yes. Yes. Yes and to make sure that there were ways in place that citizens could have an input, that they would be able to always have a say in government, making sure that our Government Act specified for example what the rules were around having people’s assemblies where people would have their voice, what the rules would be around providing financial accountability back to the people. So these were our laws that we promised people when they said, ‘How can we be sure council isn’t going to run off with all the money that we get under treaty?’ Because the constitution says they can’t and because there’s a law that says what they need to do and how they need to report back to the people. So we’re making sure that those checks and balances were really firmly in place before we start venturing off into other areas. Other areas that were really important to us in lawmaking was protection of our lands. So we have a few laws that deal with lands and resources. Areas that still allow our people to exercise our rights, harvesting rights and that kind of thing, so we made sure laws and permitting process and that were in place so that on effective date people wouldn’t say, ‘Well, how am I going to go and hunt now? Where does all of this happen?’ So we worked really hard to make sure there was no disruption in those kind of activities as well.”

Ian Record:

“So I have a final wrap-up question for you and that deals with lessons. You guys were involved in a process that lasted several years, you’ve managed to come through the light at the end of the tunnel and you have a new governance system in place. What do you feel that other First Nations in Canada, other Native nations in the United States can learn from the Huu-ay-aht experience?”

Angela Wesley:

“Well, that’s kind of difficult to say. You never really want to say what we’ve done that other people should do. We’ve done what we think is best for us. We’re happy to share our story and to see if what we’re doing can be of any assistance to others. We are grateful to those who came before us as well, there’s now 10 First Nations in British Columbia that are no longer subject to the Indian Act. We learned from them. We learned from the Nisga’a, we learned from Tsawwassen, we learned from other nations that are self-governing under self-government agreements as opposed to treaties. So I don’t know how to answer that except for to say it’s really important to bring the people along because if they don’t understand the change that’s coming up, nothing really changes for them. It’s just a shift in power from one to another and they won’t see the difference unless they’re involved in that. So I think that’s probably the biggest thing that I feel proud of that we did in our nation is we really did our best to bring the people along.”

Ian Record:

“Make sure they’re on board the nation rebuilding train before it leaves the station.”

Angela Wesley:

“Absolutely. Absolutely, yeah. So it was a healthy experience for us. We’ll talk to a lot of our citizens who aren’t happy with the way things are going, I’m positive of it, but that will never go away either. But I think what we’ve learned through the process and what our citizens have learned is to use our voices and to try to be positive in terms of saying how things can be better. If it’s not working, let’s not just complain about it, because we can fix this if we want to. So I think that’s something that we’ve learned and that we’ll continue to learn as we become more comfortable in governing ourselves once again.”

Ian Record:

“Well, Angela, I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts, experiences and wisdom with us and good luck to you and your nation on your new governance journey.”

Angela Wesley:

“Thank you.”

Ian Record:

“That’s all the time we have on today’s program of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations and the Native Nations Institute, please visit the Native Nations Institute’s website at nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us. Copyright 2013. Arizona Board of Regents.”

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Angela Wesley, Chair of the Huu-ay-aht Constitution Committee, discusses the process that the Huu-ay-Aht First Nations followed in developing their own constitution and system of government. She describes how Huu-ay-aht's new governance system is fundamentally different from their old Indian Act…