The Nisga’a: 10 Years Later

Publication, Aboriginal Futures, Joseph Quesnel


  • The Nisga’a have been controversial, enacting a far-reaching self-government agreement and allowing full property rights for members—a first in Canada.
  • In the 13 years since the 1998 Nisga’a agreement, apparently no systematic efforts have been undertaken to collect and analyse information to help evaluate the effects of the agreement or to assess the Nisga’a treaty as a prototype for other First Nations communities. This study aims to achieve that.
  • For reasons of close cultural and economic characteristics, four nearby Tsimshian First Nation communities —currently under the Indian Act—were used for comparative control purposes in the study.
  • Professional, computer-assisted telephone surveys of both Nisga’a and Tsimshian respondents were conducted by COMPAS, a polling firm. The study also involved interviews with 30 Nisga’a and Tsimshian key informants. These more in-depth interviews were meant to capture more nuance.
  • The results show the Nisga’a trust their government more than all others (and more than the Tsimshian trust theirs), and they think it is more honest than it was a decade ago, although key informants have issues related to governance.
  • The Nisga’a also think their government performs better in delivering health and education services. However, they think that their government is consulting less often with the people and that it has not delivered on economic development.
  • Interviews with Nisga’a key informants reveal that poor governance habits adopted under the Indian Act are hard to remove, as the Nisga’a villages are dealing with issues such as nepotism, family-related voting and the lack of separation of business and administration from politics.
  • The results of both studies confirm that the Nisga’a treaty has not harmed the Nisga’a people and has in fact created more trust in their government as well as a sense that their government is more honest. However, it shows there is much work to do in ensuring institutions are accountable and transparent.
  • Economic development should be a significant priority for the government, as many Nisga’a think they are not doing better after the treaty. The adoption of limited property rights and the creation of a strong political framework to facilitate economic development will be essential for future success.

View entire study as PDF (23 Pages)