The issue of resident requirements for the upcoming band election has been going on for several weeks now (years if we count other issues unresolved in previous elections). I have been trying to understand the issue and listen to as many people as possible before weighing in. Both sides have valid points, but it seems to be degenerating into increasingly personal attacks of the people involved. This serves to divide our people, not bring us together as the best public policies can and must. Let me try to quickly summarize the debate in as neutral of terms as possible and hopefully refocus the argument back on the issues and less on the people putting their opinions forth.
In this election there are members who according to the election officer have failed to meet the minimum resident requirement in order to run for the open councilor positions currently up for election. These individuals had been properly nominated, except for 'Namgis election policies that are being challenged by these members. The debate starts from the diverging opinions on what court cases apply to each party. One naming the Charter of Rights of Freedoms as the ultimate determinant of their right to be included in this election and the other saying that the current band policies as well as being classified under the custom membership code, exempt the band from these court cases. An additional consideration is that the 'Namgis First Nation is a sovereign entity separate from the Canadian state. Now before this ends in a costly, lengthy and needless court action against the band, let us have a public discussion that includes all membership, since it is the membership that ultimately must decide.
Before members feel forced to resort to a court challenge, let us re-examine why we are not being more inclusive of all of our band members in the first place. It is my understanding that there is a general concern that if we were to have off-reserve members running and getting elected, that the focus of limited funds would be directed off reserve. Furthermore, off-reserve members do not fully understand the island life with its many complexities and unique challenges. A reverse angle would prove that on-reserve councilors do not fully understand the urban challenges to over half of the 'Namgis population as witnessed by consistently low turnout to urban meetings. The band receives funding per capita, or per person, and some argue that this means funding should be more evenly split. I do not agree. The main reason people move off reserve is to find employment and many find it. Also, since there are many services available to off-reserve members that support these members, it makes sense that the funds should rightfully serve the members living in our territories. Funding that does support off-reserve members, like education for example, should be directed towards those willing to improve 'Namgis community wellness with the end goal of being able to support members willing and able to move back home and contribute. This means that our policies need to accommodate the people that actually make this effort to return, free from discrimination. This can be done in many ways, but should be a directive of the post-secondary and other policies. Of course there will be unique cases that prevent members from moving back for health or family reasons, but in general I think this provides a proactive long-term approach to improving our community well-being.
(To find the full debate I would recommend visiting the official facebook page of the 'Namgis First Nation.)
It is my understanding that our membership has grown over the past few years and that the population numbers can support two more councilors. Perhaps a good compromise on this long standing issue is to accommodate our off-reserve families by allowing them to occupy the two additional seats that according to our own policies, we should have available anyway. This way those living off reserve or just across the border, but still on-island, can still represent their people and segments of the population that have so far gone ineffectively represented. Having people represented in our governance may help increase voter participation (over half of our membership lives off-reserve). It may engage some of the young bright minds of our nation and assure our membership that we are changing with the times, that their government is still relevant. We need to recognize our unlimited potential by utilizing the best resource we have, our people.
There is no question that our urban membership needs a voice. It seems to me that the most effective way to accomplish this would be through representation. This does not have to threaten the lifestyle of those living on-reserve and any change must keep in mind our responsibilities to our lands within the 'Namgis territories. It is my firm belief that all members of a nation should have the ability to voice their opinion and be heard, represented and accountable to the nation itself. Otherwise we are saying that over half of our population does not matter, that their voices do not count and if we are not willing to give a voice to our urban populations, then what are we offering them? Many have made known that accountability is a primary concern of our current system of government in its lack of mechanisms to hold those in power effectively accountable to the people. Our system of governance must evolve with the changing times to stay relevant. Much has changed in the last two decades and if we are to not only survive economically, but thrive as a people, we must change to meet current challenges.