150 years ago western governments imposed a system of governance on our people that does not recognize our values, traditions or laws. Since then, our Nations have effectively been cut out of decisions that affect our people. The Indigenous Law Project has been one way that our Nations have been working to shift the conversation towards one that integrates our culture and makes us decision-makers in our territories.
In Nuxalk territory, this work has evolved into the Ancestral Governance Project. This project is aimed at reinvigorating a governance system that is true to Nuxalk values, laws and social organization, while allowing for the reality of working with the multiple levels of government that exist today.
Past traditions and today’s decisions
“This work has become a really important part of our Stewardship Office,” says Nuxalk’s Stewardship Director, Megan Moody, who oversees the project. One priority is the creation of governance handbooks that outline legal principles of Nuxalk society from the past, right down to each person’s role in the community.
“We are exploring how the multiple societies, families and Stataltmc (hereditary chiefs) within Nuxalk territory worked together to make decisions in the past,” Megan explains. The objective is to apply this knowledge to how Nuxalkmc (Nuxalk people) make decisions today.
“Cultural researcher, Clyde Tallio, really understands all the complexities of our culture and he is amazing at explaining the concepts to others,” says Megan. “He is always reminding us that we simply need to put all the information we have uncovered into a Nuxalk voice, and explain it in a way that makes sense to us.”
“It is critical that the Nuxalk are integrally involved in decision-making on issues that involve us and our territory. This project is empowering us to get closer to that goal.”
As Clyde explains, “our Elders left us teachings – this essential information to help guide our ancestral governance work.” With the support of Nuxalk cultural researcher, Iris Siwallace, the Ancestral Governance Project is helping to preserve those teachings by digitizing and archiving a wealth of historical information.
After all the cultural upheaval of the past, it is a big challenge to re-establish ancestral governance within the Nuxalk Nation. But the bigger challenge will be integrating these values into discussions and decisions with other governments. And, yet, this is already happening.
Megan cites a draft bear stewardship policy and a signage project with BC Parks as examples. “We are also using this knowledge to map out things like the locations of ancestral village sites to ensure important cultural areas are protected from things like forestry activity. Everything we are doing with this project filters into our decisions about protecting the things that matter to us,” she says.
From indigenous laws to ancestral governance
The Indigenous Law Project was a real catalyst for this work, says Megan. “It let us hire people and really stimulated a lot of new ideas. It definitely helped us think about how we manage and make decisions in our territory as Nuxalkmc. It gave us the capacity to get moving.”
Elaborating further Megan explains, “This is huge for us, but it is a lot of work and it is progressing slowly. I want to make this project a permanent entity in our office. We won’t accomplish enough if we have just six months here or there. It is critical that the Nuxalk are integrally involved in decision-making on issues that involve us and our territory. This project is empowering us to get closer to that goal. The response from our community has been really enthusiastic. We just need to secure funding to continue this important work.”