Sophie Pierre: Governance the Ktunaxa Nation Way

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Native Nations Institute
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Sophie Pierre is a respected native leader that has been at the forefront of building key components and infrastructure for modern self-governance in the Ktunaxa Nation. Her tenure as Chief Commission for the BC Treaty Commission appointed by governments of Canada and British Columbia and the First Nations Summit positioned her as a leading advocate and trusted representative for Ktunaxa people asserting sovereignty.  Her experiences reveal a broad and thorough effort within the Ktunaxa Nation to create a solid foundation that protects their indigenous rights and supports the well being of Ktunaxa people.

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Native Nations
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Pierre, Sophie, "Governance the Ktunaxa Nation way," Interview, Leading Native Nations interview series, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ,  April 04, 2015.

Veronica Hirsch:

“Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I’m your host, Veronica Hirsch. On today’s program we are honored to have with us Sophie Pierre. Sophie is a citizen of the Ktunaxa Nation and as of April 1, 2015, completed her tenure as the Chief Commissioner for the BC Treaty Commission after being appointed in April 2009 by agreement of the governments of Canada and British Columbia and the First Nations Summit. Sophie served the St. Mary’s Indian Band for 30 years, 26 years as elected chief, and was the administrator of the Ktunaxa Kinbasket Tribal Council for 25 years. She also served as the Tribal Chair of the Ktunaxa Nation council, Chairperson of the First Nations Finance Authority, President of St. Eugene Mission Holdings Limited and is Co-Chair of the International Advisory Council to the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona. Sophie, welcome.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Thank you.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“It’s good to have you with us today. I’ve shared a little bit about who you are but why don’t you start by telling us a bit more about yourself?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, first of all, thank you very much for the invitation to participate in this initiative. Well, I’m Ktunaxa grandmother of, it’s going to be four in July. But I have myself and my husband, we have three children and going on four grandchildren now. And I just recently retired, and I’m not sure yet quite what that means. I think it’s going to mean that I kind of get to do what I really want to do instead of what I need to do which will be nice.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“It’ll be a nice transition I’m sure.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Yes.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Very good. Well, thank you. Thank you for sharing with us a bit about your own personal life, and it sounds who inspires you, whom you love. That’s always important in any of the work that we do. And I do want to transition though to some of the work that you’ve done in the past and would really appreciate your reflections upon that experience. I’d like to begin by asking you, how was the Ktunaxa Nation Council formed?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, the Ktunaxa Nation Council as it is today as the corporate entity, it was formed in the early ‘70s and it was really as a result of the Canadian government policy at the time, Department of Indian Affairs policy. Previous to that as I think most people know, in the late 1890s the Canadian government formed Indian reservations, Indian reserves across Canada called Indian Bands and governed under the Indian Act. And there started to be a real change, a resurgence that went on through the ‘60s and ‘70s, as it did here in the United States. I think a lot of what happened in Canada kind of was as a result of the change that was happening here in the United States in Indian Country. And so the federal government until then had only recognized the individual Indian Bands. So in British Columbia there are 200 Indian Bands. But in terms of nations, of people, there are very, much smaller number closer to about the 30 number within British Columbia. Well, with our Ktunaxa Nation we have five Indian Bands in British Columbia in the southeast corner of British Columbia in the Rocky Mountain Trench that are part of the Ktunaxa Nation. We also have community in Idaho and also in Montana because the Ktunaxa Nation was one of those along the 49th Parallel where our nation was divided into Canada and the United States. And because we are a nomadic people, well we still are. We were a nomadic people, maybe not as much nomadic now as, but we certainly still travel a lot. Because we’re a nomadic people, those that happened to be at that point in time in the northern part of our territory became Canadians and in some instances like whole families were divided in half where part of the family would have been in Canada, the other part was in the United States either in Montana or Idaho when they put in the 49th Parallel and then created the communities. So it was through the ‘70s and ‘80s when just that whole Indian nationhood and understanding and going back to our roots and all of that when that was developing that we really came together strong as the Ktunaxa Nation and reconnecting. The connections between our people in Canada and the United States had never been really broken but they weren’t as strong and they have really become a lot stronger since. So that’s how, at that same time the Canadian government was now recognizing collectives of Indian Bands as a tribal council. So we started out as a tribal council and that evolved into the recognition of us as the Ktunaxa Nation.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Thank you for explaining how the Ktunaxa communities that comprise the Ktunaxa Nation are and always have been one nation. Regardless of this 49th Parallel.”

Sophie Pierre:

“That’s right, yes. Absolutely, yes.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“But I do want to focus specifically on the Ktunaxa communities that are now located within the Canadian geographical boundaries and ask you what Ktunaxa communities comprise the Ktunaxa Nation Council?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Right now there are, four of the five are part of the Ktunaxa Nation Council. We have Tobacco Plains and I’ll also give the Ktunaxa names for the places. Tobacco Plains is Ê”akinkÌ“umÇ‚asnuqÇ‚iÊ”it. We have Ê”akisqÌ“nuk, which is in the north. We have Ê”aqÌ“am, which is St. Mary’s. And we have yaqan nuykiy, which is also Lower Kootenay or Creston. So those are the four that comprise the existing Ktunaxa Nation Council as its corporate entity. But we also have another community there, the Shuswap Indian Band that is a small Indian Band that the Ktunaxa people when Indian reserves were being created had made allowances for people who had come over from west of our traditional territory over the mountains into our traditional territory. They’d actually come for really for political asylum as it were, protection from their own people and they ended up staying and becoming a part of us. But right now they are not part of the corporate entity although they have been in the past.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Thank you. Do the communities comprising the Ktunaxa Nation Council have their own governance?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Yes. Each of the, and it’s a spillover right now of the Indian Act and being Indian Bands. Under the Indian Act each Indian Band has the ability to elect a chief and council members and as you mentioned in my introduction, I was on council for 30 years and 26 as elected chief. So each of the communities have that, we’re in the stage of transition between still being Indian Bands and eventually reaching and implementing a negotiated treaty and then our governing structure will change a little bit.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Thank you for that. Thank you for explaining that change may be eminent. Whether that is soon or a little bit later.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Yes.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Thank you. How do the communities comprising the Ktunaxa Nation Council define nationhood and citizenship?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, I think that with our, with the four communities and actually with many of the members of the fifth community, because the Shuswap Indian Band is, like half of the people there are of Ktunaxa ancestry so they also participate when we talk about our larger nation question as opposed to just what’s happening individually in the communities or at the Indian Band level. So how we’ve defined nationhood is that it goes back to citizenship and really it goes back to your roots.

In Ktunaxa our ancestors or our relations, our grandparents, our ancestors, are called, In our Ktunaxa language our ancestors, our, we refer to them as [Ktunaxa language] and when you take that word apart [Ktunaxa language] is a root. So really what you’re saying is that our ancestors are our roots and if you can trace your roots back to the Ktunaxa Nation, then you are Ktunaxa. You’re accepted as Ktunaxa because you are, you have [Ktunaxa language]. And what I’ve just said is your ancestors are Ktunaxa. And as a nation that’s how we’ve determined our citizenship and that’s how we determine our nationhood is by those, by everyone that can trace their ancestry.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“You mentioned this aspect of tracing ancestry and I would venture, please correct me if this is not an appropriate comparison, within the United States this terminology of lineal descent. Is that, is what you’ve just described of tracing one’s Ktunaxa ancestry distinct from lineal descent.”

Sophie Pierre:

“I’m not really sure just how lineal descent is defined but I know that one of the things that we do not, we do not uphold as I know happens in the United States is this blood quantum. Yeah, so is lineal,  If that’s what you mean by lineal descent, no we don’t have that. We say that if you can trace your roots then that is proof enough of being a citizen of the Ktunaxa Nation.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“At times, depending on what native nation in the United States we’re talking about may employ lineal descent criteria and in fact blood quantum may come into play whereas other nations within the United States have used a type of document and very often it has been a written record, perhaps not a written record that’s been drafted by the community itself but rather by an appointed U.S. Indian agent for instance. And using that as an example where a community might say, ‘We are going to use a specific document regardless of whether or not we had any real agency in its authorship to trace our “lineal descent”.’ The reason I ask that question is, is one’s ability to trace his or her Ktunaxa ancestry, is it dependent upon a written record, can it be a type of unwritten record?”

Sophie Pierre:

“It can, well, it’s really dependent on both. Obviously if you have the written record and in Canada we have what’s called the status Indians so that there’s the list of the Indians that the government recognized. But then for a whole lot of reasons, some of which were legal reasons, that people lost their status as Indians so we may have and in fact we have had, we do have Ktunaxa who are not considered status. Well, that doesn’t, the status, the idea of status or non-status does not matter to us. That’s not important, that’s not what’s important here. What’s important is that you have, if it’s a written record or you have your oral history and people know who they are. If you’re born Ktunaxa, you’re not going to change into a German. You’re always going to be Ktunaxa.

Veronica Hirsch:

“This idea or as you’ve express I should say of Ktunaxa identity and Ktunaxa citizenship is that, that applies at the nation level not at the specific community level. Am I understanding that?”

Sophie Pierre:

“No, it does apply also at the community level but we’re, as I mentioned before, we’re in transition. The communities right now are governed still through the Indian Act so the federal government still has a fair amount of influence on that and for example the federal government will provide money say for education. But they only provide it for those people who are considered to be status Indians. Now for the community, there, you find quite often, I know at St. Mary’s we did this all the time and probably still do where if we’ve got people that we know are our people but they’re not considered status, there are ways of finding ways that you can help them but they’re not going to be on that status roll where we get money from the government for them. And that really is the only difference. What we’re working towards once we implement a treaty is that we’re going to have the communities, we’ll still have a community governance level that will look after the internal affairs of that community but it will be more at a recognizing citizens as opposed to status Indians and also recognizing that they have certain responsibilities within their community but they also have responsibilities within the overall Ktunaxa territory, traditional territory.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Thank you. What is the Ktunaxa Nation citizenship code and is this code unwritten or written?”

Sophie Pierre:

“At the time, it’s being written. We don’t,  It’s written but it’s not to the sense where you can say that it’s been adopted because eventually it will have to be voted on by the people as will everything else that is going to be part of our treaty. And the same thing applies to the constitution. We are also, because citizenship of course will be part of our constitution and all of that is coming as a, it’s what we’re working on through the treaty process and will come as part of the ratification process as we start ratifying our treaty.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Realizing that the Ktunaxa Nation citizenship code is in process, who helped define and draft the code, who is helping to do that?”

Sophie Pierre:

“We’ve got staff of course with the treaty office that have been working on that over the years and they’ve been working in the community but we also have what we call TKL which is traditional language and culture group and they’re particularly elders. Unfortunately we’re like a lot of Indian nations where we’re losing many of our elders. In fact I think I’ve become one of them so it’s not like me talking about somebody else being an elder that’s bringing this knowledge forward. It’s now time for people of my generation that we need to step up and provide that direction, that leadership so that’s where all of that would be coming. Everything will be vetted through the TKL.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Are Ktunaxa defined nationhood and citizenship definitions and criteria distinct from band membership and status/non-status designations assigned by the Canadian government?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Yes. They will be different. Right now we are using both as I said because we are still under the Indian Act as Indian Act Bands so we still have those certain requirements that we have with the federal government but that is,  The whole point of being in treaty negotiations is as we say ‘to get out from under the Indian Act and to become self-governing.’ So of course citizenship and nationhood, all of that will be quite different from being an Indian Act Band under the Indian, yeah, under the Indian Affairs Department.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Realizing that citizenship as you mentioned will be different once the treaty process is complete, is finalized and as part of that drafting, completing the draft of the citizenship code, completing a constitution which would outline provisions for citizenship, is there any discussion among those individuals who as I believe you said TKL were part of that body. Is there any discussion of if it would be appropriate and if it is appropriate to let’s say restore the for lack of a better word status of current Ktunaxa community members who do not have that status Indian designation?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, the, there will be no status Indian designation once we are self-governing. We will be Ktunaxa citizens. Anyone who’s got [Ktunaxa language] that are Ktunaxa will be Ktunaxa citizens. No more status/non-status.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“That’s very empowering.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Yes, it is. Yes. And I think that it really is, that’s really what nation rebuilding is all about is reclaiming something so fundamental as your citizenship.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“And being able to define it on your own terms.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Absolutely, yes.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“In ways that underscore one’s Ktunaxa identity.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Exactly. Yes. That I think is one of the, really the powerful parts about us being in this and pursuing treaty negotiations is to regain that.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“You mentioned how the treaty negotiation process is helping facilitate the actual drafting of a constitution.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Yes.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“And the eventual ratification and implementation of same. At the current time, do Ktunaxa Nation council member communities themselves have unwritten or written constitutions?”

Sophie Pierre:

“No. None of the communities, none of the Indian Bands have written constitutions. They’re just Indian Bands. They’re pretty much under the Indian Act.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Thank you. What process did the Ktunaxa Nation Council use to identify and articulate the four pillars that comprise its national vision and how long did this process take?”

Sophie Pierre:

“The entire process probably took about five years. But just in terms of coming to an understanding of what our vision statement would be, that took definitely two years of going into the communities, going, sitting at the kitchen table, having Band meetings, having suppers, having just our AGM talking about it so that eventually we agreed on the wording of our vision and it covers those four pillars which are our people, our land, our language and culture and our governing process. And at the center of that with the spokes going out, at the center of it would be the administration of that governance.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“In the conversations you mentioned, sometimes even at the, a particular family’s kitchen table, were all age ranges included in articulating that four pillars statement?”

Sophie Pierre:

“That was the intent. I don’t know if it was always possible to have like the very young people, the teenagers. They certainly had an opportunity but usually teenagers are more interested in other things and find that kind of discussion boring but when they were at the kitchen table, I think that that’s probably when you had more involvement from the younger generation. They don’t really have much use for going to Band meetings and expressing their opinions there. They’d rather be out playing basketball or whatever. But yeah, the intent and I know that certainly the effort was there to get the input from all ages.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Why was it important to get input from all age ranges?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, of course the knowledge of our ways from the elders and then pass it down through the generations but really to, it’s always important to have as much involvement as possible from the younger generation ‘cause they are the ones really that are going to live with it and I think that that’s really how, and you’ve got to get that message across and have people understanding that and recognizing that yeah if,  They can choose not to participate but it means that whatever the rest of the people come up with is what they’re going to have to live with.”

Sophie Pierre:

“I think that what we are doing at home is using the social media because that’s such a big part of young people’s lives. I don’t really understand it. I think that it would get really kind of tiring to be talking so much chatter all the time but that really is the environment that our young people are in today and they thrive on that. So that is one of the tasks of the Treaty Nation Office is to get as much as possible on social media and to have that kind of chatter going on. We had a really good exercise in our community at Ê”aqÌ“am, at St. Mary’s. It was more about community development. We were talking about our Indian reserve lands and how we’re going to be developing it ‘cause we have an opportunity for commercial development but it has to go to a referendum for all the community members to decide if this land is going to be set aside for commercial development. So we had a very young woman, Denny, she was probably about 22 or 23 at the time and she went and she led this and so she was able to get all age groups to be involved including the teenagers and like very young, young people and it was just because she’s young herself and she was able to connect with them. And the community development plan that we ended up with, I’m really quite proud of at St. Mary’s. It depicts a teepee and each of the poles is something that goes on in the community. There’s a pole that represents education and a pole that represents housing and child and family services so all of these, health and everything. So when all the poles are together and they’re tied tight, of course you’ve got a nice sturdy structure to protect you but if one of the poles gets loose or one of the poles breaks, you start having trouble. So we’re always talking about how we’ve got to strengthen the poles within the teepee of our community. And so it’s that kind of example that we have in terms of just finding ways of encouraging the young people to participate.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Thank you. I’d like to transition a bit and ask how leadership is identified and specifically how are Ktunaxa Nation Council leaders chosen?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Right now because we are still under the Indian Act we do that by election and it’s all of our communities are on five year terms. I’m sorry, four year terms. Four year terms. In all of our communities those terms are staggered so that you never have a year where you’d have a total new council. And the,  When you’re elected, the council has five members and each of them would hold one of the pillars, would be responsible for one of the pillars in our vision statement, the four major pillars and then of course the overall administration.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Who is eligible then to vote for the Ktunaxa Nation Council leadership? You mentioned that the communities comprising the Ktunaxa Nation are eligible to vote. Could you explain maybe some of that voting eligibility criteria?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, again it’s through the Indian Act and so it would be those “status” Indians who are registered members of, I’ll use my community for example. So they’re status members of St. Mary’s Indian Reserve and so we have that anybody who is a status member over the age of 18 is eligible to vote. Now we have our own election code within our community and it determines who is eligible to vote, who is eligible to run. There’s concern that if you have,  We have people that can,  They can live anywhere. They don’t have to live on reserve to vote. So even if they lived in Montana, they’re eligible to vote at St. Mary’s because they are a “status” member of our community. However, they would not be eligible to run for office ‘cause it’s... It just makes common sense. You need people who are going to be in your governing structure to be people who are living in the community primarily. But even if they just, if they live in Cranbrook that’s not a problem, you can still run for council.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Do Ktunaxa communities define voting criteria and determine voting eligibility individually?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Yes. Under the Indian Act there’s, we’re all, we all have the ability to develop what I just called our election code so each of the communities has that.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“And among the communities and regarding their election codes, are there any voting eligibility differences?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, yeah. I think there may be in terms of whether or not the person has to actually live say within the Ktunaxa traditional territory or they can live anywhere in the world and vote ‘cause with, I think with one of our communities it’s more that you had to live within the territory which still isn’t a real problem. Like I said in terms of anybody living in Montana in our traditional territory they’d still be able to vote. But yeah there was, and it was a result of a court case that the Canadian law says now that if someone’s living in Vancouver or Toronto, they’re still a Band member and they’re, so they’re eligible to vote. So you can have that in your own election code but if you don’t, so long as you have your election code developed, then that supersedes what is in the Indian Act.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Thank you. The reason I asked that is if there were any type of voting eligibility differences among the various Ktunaxa communities, if that had ever internally for the Ktunaxa Nation caused any type of discussion or concern over our criteria or our election code somewhat differs from our relative.”

Sophie Pierre:

“No, that has not, that has never really been an issue because I think that the fact that we’re all still considered to be Indian Bands right now and so there’s a certain fundamental like level of responsibility that comes directly from the Indian Act that is always going to be there as, determining.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“And it sounds like if there were any differences that those will and are in the process of being resolved once the Ktunaxa Nation Council defines, completes defining its voting eligibility criteria at that national level.”

Sophie Pierre:

“That’s right, at that citizenship level. And so that of course then becomes all part of our constitution because we’ll have the governors of the nation which is our entire traditional territory and then we will have people who will still be in a community governance ‘cause the communities will continue to have their own responsibilities for their community and their members but it’s that overall, that larger government that we’re developing. I think that that’s the bigger step that we’re taking right now.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“With regard to that explanation of the larger overall governing structure which would be embodied by the Ktunaxa Nation Council and then the community level structure among the various communities, St. Mary’s for instance, Tobacco Plains and the other communities that you’ve already mentioned, is that structure of having this larger umbrella so to speak and then more localized governments, does that speak to traditional governance structures that Ktunaxa citizens themselves pursued as a means of self-organization?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, I think that it’s the modern if you will, it’s the evolving way of expressing our traditional governance because traditionally, as I said, our people were nomadic people and so there, within the group, within the family group that are in a particular area at a time, at a particular time say at Lower Kootenay and they’re there, either north at what’s called Creston now or just like five miles south at Bonner’s Ferry, those are all the same families really and so within that particular family grouping there would have been certain leadership positions and that was always the way that it was. And then when you have people come together, then there would be a recognized leader, I don’t know what you want to, like a chief of the, of Ktunaxa if they’re dealing with another nation, the Blackfeet or the U.S. government.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“And I asked that question because as we notice nations, for instance Ktunaxa Nation Council define for itself who comprises us, who we are, that many native nations are looking at their traditional governance structures and asking, ‘Are elements of our traditional governance structures, do they still exist in some form or fashion simply are they translated or can they be translated to a contemporary context? Is that translation appropriate? Can we really make the successful argument for our current or I should say our contemporary structure that in fact it does arise from former contexts where we operated solely according to our own traditional governance systems?’”

Sophie Pierre:

“What we did as we’re doing the developmental work many, 20 years ago within our nation doing the developmental work for our treaty, we, there was a lot of work that was done around how traditional leadership roles would have been determined and so there was, like in all of our stories we have for example the Duck chief. So that was a person that was responsible for knowing when you go out duck hunting and how you do it and how you share so that person had that certain leadership responsibility. So to be similar today for someone to be in like an economic development kind of role. In all of our stories there’s always reference to like the Duck chief, the Deer chief and then there was their religious, they had a person that was responsible for spirituality. So there would be the head person who would be for that, I don’t know what other term to use other than the geographer who said, ‘Okay, well, folks, we’re going to have to move in three months time and we’re going to move over here.’ So there was those kind of, always those kind of roles and responsibilities and so we’ve taken that, those kind of stories and translated them into the types of positions we need today. So we need people who are responsible for lands and resources, we need people who are responsible for traditional language and culture. We need people who are responsible for government, for the overall governance. We need people who are responsible for child and family services, all of our social services.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Thank you. As you mentioned the geographer I thought, ‘A contemporary term we might say is an eco-manager.’”

Sophie Pierre:

“An eco-manager, sure. Yes. Yeah, ‘cause you don’t want to overuse an area. It’s time to move, yeah.”

Sophie Pierre:

“The ones who do choose to participate such as the Ktunaxa Nation, it is our desire to be self-governing, to be away, to be out from under the Indian Act and to have, to have things, to have certainty for our people so that we have certainty in terms of land that will be treaty lands and those are lands where we have complete jurisdiction and I think that it’s that whole jurisdiction and governance area that’s really, really important here. And then we would have areas where we have co-management, we have shared decision making and then we have some areas where we would, we actually give up having any kind of decision making. We don’t have it now to begin with but it’s more that it’s recognized, that we recognize and that we give up that. I don’t think that Ktunaxa people will ever really have decision making in certain municipalities unless you happen to live there. Just like I wouldn’t want the municipality of Cranbrook to have decision making over St. Mary’s then neither should St. Mary’s have decision making over Cranbrook except where it comes to this overall shared decision making of the area if they wanted to put a nuclear plant which I don’t think they would want to anyway. But if that’s what they wanted to do, then we would have a say in that just like anybody else who lives in the region.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Thank you. In your opinion is perhaps a particular community’s or First Nation’s reluctance to participate in the BC Treaty Commission process, is it for concern that in doing so that that community could sacrifice certain aspects or certain access to let’s say government services for instance that they currently possess?”

Sophie Pierre:

“I don’t think it’s so much the access to government services. I think that those First Nations who’ve made a very knowledge based decision not to participate in the treaty process do for some very fundamental reasons. Number one is that the federal government up ‘til very recently has always been and actually they haven’t really changed their policy in terms of they come in with a deniability of the existence of Aboriginal title, Aboriginal rights. That’s where they start with and then you’ve got to prove it as you go through your negotiations. Tsilhqot’in decision last summer Supreme Court of Canada says very differently that yes, Aboriginal people do have Aboriginal title. But the criteria for determining your Aboriginal title is quite strict with, if you just look at the Supreme Court decision that’s there. So there are those First Nations that say, ‘No, we are, ’ like I guess, I don’t think they’re actually saying, ‘We want to stay as an Indian Band,’ but what they’re saying is that, ‘We don’t feel that it’s the right decision for us to accept extinguishment of Aboriginal title, ‘which is where the Canadian government used to come in on. That position has changed drastically over the last 20 years but 20 years ago when this process started that definitely was where they were coming from. So it was always the elimination if you will of Aboriginal, but you had to accept that in order to get into the treaty process. So a lot of First Nations they said, ‘No, we’re not starting from that position.’ There were other First Nations that said, ‘We’re interested in having treaty negotiations,’ and they came into the process for a while but they were not happy with the level of mandate that they felt the federal government had was much too narrow for them and so they have pulled back and aren’t in negotiations. Their names are still listed because they’re intent to negotiate was actually registered. So until they say, ‘We want to pull our name from that,’ they would still be listed as having an intent to negotiate. But they’re very concerned with the limited mandate that federal and provincial governments have for their negotiation mandates.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Regarding those First Nations who as you mentioned 20 years ago were very concerned about the extinguishment of Aboriginal title perhaps as the reason, a very deliberate and knowledge based reason for choosing not to engage in the process, is there opportunity for any one of those nations to now engage in the process?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Yes, there is. There continues to be. The maiden BC treaty negotiation process that I was fortunate enough to be Chief Commissioner of for the BC Treaty Commission for the last six years, that process is there and it’s, hopefully it’s going to go through some changes so that the Treaty Commission really will be in a stronger position in terms of facilitating the negotiations and ensuring that the federal and provincial governments like keep their feet to the fire to get these negotiations through. But I think that there, the mandate and that hard line position about extinguishment, that definitely has softened over the years and it’s not that anybody ever went into it thinking that yes, we’re going to extinguish our rights. That was never the position of the First Nations who entered the treaty process. No, they’ve always said, ‘We’re not going to extinguish our rights. We’re here to negotiate.’ And so if you come in with a position of extinguishment, you’re not coming in to negotiate ‘cause you negotiate interests. It’s very, very difficult to negotiate positions.”

Veronica Hirsch: 

“Good point. How many First Nations treaties have been negotiated to date? You mentioned that some are in process and are listed as such. If you had to provide an estimate, do you have an estimate for how many have been let’s say finalized?”

Sophie Pierre:

“No, I know for sure. We’ve had, two days after I started as Chief Commissioner we enacted our first treaty so I always took credit for that saying, ‘I’m pretty good. I got a treaty in two days.’ But of course that took 20 years before that. So Tsawwassen Treaty has been enacted since 2009 and then in 2010 we had the Maa-nulth Treaty which were five communities that had come together very similar to our where they come together and negotiated together but they ended up with their own individual treaties, each of those communities whereas the Ktunaxa Nation we will have one treaty for the Ktunaxa Nation and we will have the four and hopefully five communities that will participate from the benefits of that treaty.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Do you have an estimate for how many nations are in process, not ones that have let’s say finalized a treaty but are at some stage, maybe close to finalization?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Yes. We’ve got and actually a good source for this is always the website for the BC Treaty Commission. Our annual report, we have every year since the creation of this process the Treaty Commission has always put in a status report that shows,  There are six stages to negotiations so then they’ll show, we show the First Nations that are implementing treaties and then we show those First Nations that have a final agreement but not yet an enactment date. Well, they haven’t implemented their treaty but they have a final agreement and so they’re going from final agreement stage to actual implementation and right now we have four tables that are at that and that doesn’t mean four Indian Bands ‘cause a couple of them will have more than one community that’s working with them. And then we have another group of about eight that are in advanced agreement and principle stage which is Stage 4 and then another 10 or so that are less advanced but they’re also in agreement and principle and then we have a couple more that would be in the framework. So it starts out you put in a statement of intent then there’s a readiness criteria that would be Stage 2 so I think we have one or two that are in readiness. And then you go into framework, agreement and principle, final agreement and implementation. Those are the six stages. But for numbers, it’s best to get it off our website. They’re right there.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Thank you. You mentioned the Ktunaxa Nation Council’s decision, it sounds like it was a measured decision, to engage in the BC Treaty Commission process and I’d like to ask you, in your opinion, what impacts has the Ktunaxa Nation Council’s involvement in this process, what impacts have there been?”

Sophie Pierre:

“I think the impacts are incalculable. We have rebuilt our nation. The level of governance that is at the community and at the nation level is, it’s way better organized and it’s much stronger and it has more credibility first and foremost among our own people but the credibility that we as a governing nation, as the Ktunaxa Nation have, with government, both Canadian and provincial governments, with industry—really, really important. There was a time when I was first elected chief that the local mining or forest companies wouldn’t even think of calling the Indian reserve or the Indian chief if they were going to do anything. Now they wouldn’t even think of starting anything without first consulting with us and seeking our consent. So it has really been, well, it’s a game changer for us. It has been a game changer for us.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“And how has it been a game changer? You mentioned the ways in which Ktunaxa Nation has been able to really assert itself as a body politic and I wanted to ask is it because individual members of the Ktunaxa Nation chose to engage in dialogue that somehow inspired a sense of ability to create a platform where Ktunaxa citizens could come together and identify their own priorities and then articulate those priorities to for instance the BC Treaty Commission?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, that’s certainly a part of it but I think that it’s even more fundamental than that. It was the regrowth or the rebirth if you will of who we are as a people, that we’re not just [Ktunaxa language] which is like St. Mary’s or [Ktunaxa language], that we are in fact all Ktunaxa and that our relatives in Montana and Idaho we are all part of Ktunaxa [Ktunaxa language] and we’re all the same people and we have the very same land responsibilities to protect. And so it’s been that kind of, I think that that’s really where it’s had the most fundamental impact. And because of that, because of that re-strengthening of us as a nation, as we accepted that responsibility ourselves, it was then very difficult for government and industry to ignore that because we just wouldn’t allow that to happen. It’s very different if you’re just working as an individual Indian Band. You don’t have that kind of authority, you don’t have that kind of credibility. But as a nation, you can’t do anything in our territory without getting the consent of the Ktunaxa Nation.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Thank you. How do First Nations and the BC Treaty Commission address overlapping claims regarding traditional territory?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Now that is the $60 billion question I guess, bringing it up to date, not $60 million. Overlapping claims and shared territory are going to continue to be one of the biggest challenges I think for First Nations and a lot of it stems from this whole, the creation of Indian reserves and where you have a number of Indian reserves acting independently within a group of people who are all the same culture, language and where they don’t come together as a nation such as we’ve done in Ktunaxa. I totally understand where you have such a large geographic space or many, many communities that is very difficult to do that but this is going to be a really tough question. And as a treaty commission what we’ve done is that we’ve created an environment so that people can be encouraged to start finding their own solutions and we continue to provide resources so that First Nations can come together and talk, particularly those First Nations who are in treaty and their neighboring First Nation is not in treaty and they have an overlapping claim or they have a shared territory and that needs to really have some resolution before a final treaty can be implemented. In some instances there’s absolutely no incentive for the First Nation who’s not in treaty. They can just say, ‘Forget it. We’re not, we don’t want to talk to you. We haven’t talked to you for the last 50 years and we’re not going to talk to you now.’ We really have those kind of situations. It’s just, it’s unfortunate and these are people who are related, who are of the same language group, they’re the same culture, they’re the same people but they’re fighting with each other over their shared territory. Yeah, it’s going to be a tough one.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“What resources specifically have First Nations who are engaged in trying to address this overlapping traditional territory situation, what resources have those nations specified that this is one of our most pressing needs and we would appreciate help in this specific area?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, it’s particular for those First Nations that are in, they’re reaching the end of agreement and principle or they’re in final agreement and they really need to have some solution for their shared territory with their neighboring, either their neighboring families or in some instances it’s actually a different nation altogether. For example with the Ktunaxa, we have shared territory issues with Okanagans and with Shuswaps and so as a Ktunaxa Nation we have a responsibility to enter into some solution whether it’s going to be a protocol or I don’t know what we’ll end up with but some solution how we’re going to continue to share that territory into the future. And right now it’s just a matter of our neighbors saying, ‘Well, no, we don’t want to talk to you. That’s our land, it’s not yours and we’re not going to talk about it.’ That doesn’t help. That doesn’t help anybody. It doesn’t, because right now the government continues to use it,  industry continues to use and we’re both losing so that’s why we need to sit down and we really need to talk about not so much how we divide the territory amongst each other but how we share and protect the territory for all future generations. I think that’s really where we’ve got to put our minds to.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Would it be possible in certain instances for let’s say neighboring nations who are not of the same linguistic group for instance but for as long as anyone can remember have always lived side by side, is there any possibility in your opinion for nations that have always lived, coexisted side by side to perhaps look at some of their shared history and maybe some of the traditional governance approaches to using shared territory to inform perhaps a protocol that you mentioned?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Yeah. And we’ve got examples of that. We just,  I still say we as if I’m part of the BC Treaty Commission. It’s going to take me a while to get over that. But the BC Treaty Commission just hosted a forum in the middle of March and on the last day of the three day forum we talked specifically about overlapping claims and shared territory and we had a film clip that was shared with us between two very distinct nations and this was when Nisga’a were going for their final agreement, their treaty, and it was with one of their neighboring nations where they came together and,  It was long and hard work for them to reach this protocol but they did it in a traditional way and they celebrated the protocol in a traditional way like in a, it was a big gymnasium but it would have been like a long house kind of way where they were brought in, the leaders were brought in with the declaration, with the drums and with ceremony. And I think that that’s really where our strength lies is in our ceremony and once we realize that, once we reaccept that I think that we’re going to be able to reach resolution a lot easier. And that’s always been my position that we have,  We’ve shared this territory for thousands upon thousands of years and other than having straight out warfare which of course we did but eliminating that, there are other ways that traditionally we were always able to share that territory and it was never that there was a line drawn and this is where I’m so,  I’m just so afraid of us getting sucked into that where we divide the land between us as opposed to agreeing on how we continue to share it and protect it because if we divide it between us, we’re not protecting it.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Thank you. I’d like to return a bit to how communities comprising the Ktunaxa Nation function really on a day to day basis and wanted to know if you could speak to how a community, if a community I should say as it functions on a day to day basis, to what extent do those communities make autonomous decisions and in what areas?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, autonomous to the extent of being an Indian Band where you still have the minister has the ability to change his mind at the end of the day. The communities, they’re responsible for the services and the community development like that is within their community and so they’re autonomous in that way. But I don’t think that it, it certainly isn’t true self-governance and it can’t be so long as it’s on Indian reserve lands determined by the Indian Act.

Veronica Hirsch:

 ”Returning to the structure of the Ktunaxa Nation Council, would the council potentially ever determine whether certain decisions made at the member community level are appropriate, whether they are in line, in support of the Ktunaxa Nation constitution for instance, at what point might the overall structure of the Ktunaxa Nation Council either step in or not when it comes to the day to day function at the community level?”

Sophie Pierre:

“I don’t think that there’s really anticipated that there would be a role for the overall governing body to step in and have a say at the individual community level. I suppose there might be some instances of that but I can’t think of anything right now on where we,  ‘Cause really what we’re more interested in is that the overall governing body,  Well, no, actually there is a way here. We have like a Department of Finance if you will, Ministry of Finance. So money that is raised off our traditional lands, the larger traditional lands, not the individual Indian Bands but the larger traditional territories, monies that are raised there go into the treasury for the communities and at the nation level decisions are made about what that, how that money will be distributed. A portion of it will remain at the nation level and it will remain there for certain purposes, then portions of it will go into the community and when it goes into the community it will go into the community specifically for like education or housing or economic development. So there’s I guess in that sense there might be some level of governance from the nation body but the autonomy really of the individual community for maintaining its own services and responsibilities, that will remain.”

Sophie Pierre:

“We have had this, the difficulty of having the Shuswap Indian Band be in part of our Ktunaxa Nation Council. They were not, they did not agree with some of the decisions that were made and we always go by, we try to go by consensus but if you can’t get straight out consensus then you go by the majority and so they were not happy with a couple of decisions made and that’s why they, the leadership at that time decided to pull out. Whether or not they will continue to be out of it, the nation council is a question for the future. But I think that that was a way of where we could not really meet the requirements of that one particular community that wanted to do things so different than what everybody else did where it was not necessary to accommodate the type of leadership that was coming from that community was so different from what was going on in the others so they just chose to pull out.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Regarding First Nations economic development efforts, why should Canadian citizens, provincial and federal agencies and their associated personnel, replace in a quality focused mindset in favor of one that focuses upon nation driven solutions?”

Sophie Pierre:

“I have a very straightforward answer to that and it’s this. When a First Nation benefits economically, the whole region benefits. It’s not true the other way around. That’s why in a very resource rich country, both Canada and the United States, why it’s possible that you have resource extraction where the larger community is doing very well but sitting smack dab in the middle of it is a poverty stricken Aboriginal or Indian community. Why is that? If you turn the tables on that and that First Nation, that Aboriginal community becomes economically viable, the whole region benefits and St. Eugene Resort is a perfect example of that. We turned a former Indian residential school into a resort. At the height of the season it hires 260 people. The majority of those are from the surrounding region. Maybe 50, 40 people are from our nation. Everybody else is from the region. And the success of our resort brings people into the area that spend their money everywhere else too, not just at the resort. So when we became economically viable, when we became successful, everybody benefited. But for 60 years we had a lead and zinc mine just 10 miles up the road from my reserve, in fact I’m convinced because our elders told me, that they dug under our reserve to take out the lead and zinc. We never benefited a cent from that. So that’s my response to that.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“What factors define and contribute to a successful nation driven solution?”

Sophie Pierre:

“It’s got to be owned by the nation. If it hasn’t been, if it’s something that some bureaucrat has dreamt up as the kind of flavor of the month solution for Indian problems, it ain’t going to work. Simple as that.”

Sophie Pierre:

“My whole, my focus always in the time that I’ve been in a leadership position is that succession planning and involving the youth,  You’d asked that question earlier and I really didn’t talk about this how it’s been a practice of mine that I always want to transfer the knowledge that I have gained to as many young people as possible as quickly as possible. And so with, like even with the experiences that I’ve had with NNI, in the past whenever I had the opportunity brought a young person from my nation to participate in that. And then when I became Chief Commissioner of the Treaty Commission I did the same thing there and brought Sarah Robinson to come to a meeting that we had, that NNI had hosted with New Zealand and Australian people and the United States and Canada, the Common Roots, Common Future. And now she’s heading up, she is the Implementation Coordinator of one of the Maa-Nulth treaties. So she’s just grown and I’ve, there’s nothing better than seeing and watching a young person develop and step into the leadership role that they are perfectly capable of doing so that’s something that I always encourage and especially as I get older encourage even more strongly that we do as much as possible to pass on the knowledge that we have been lucky enough to acquire within our own lifetime. My mother always taught me that knowledge that’s kept inside and not shared is knowledge that ends up with no power so you have to share it in order for it to have the power.”

Veronica Hirsch:

“Thank you, Sophie. That’s all the time we have on today’s episode of Leading Native Nations produced by the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy and Arizona Public Media at the University of Arizona. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit NNI’s Indigenous Governance Database website which can be found at igovdatabase.com. Thank you for joining us.”

Sophie Pierre:

“God bless. Thank you."

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