Tsawwassen: Where Two Worlds can Co-Exist
Combining the best of the traditional and the new: Drafting legislation for the Tsawwassen First Nation
“The Tsawwassen People exist as part of two worlds: traditional and modern-day. We now institute the system where our two worlds can co-exist. We have connected our fundamental teachings together with universally held principles of responsible government to establish the Tsawwassen Government and to enact Tsawwassen Laws for the betterment of our People.” – Declaration of Tsawwassen Identity and Nationhood, April 3, 2009
In 2007, after 14 years of negotiations, the Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN) signed the first urban treaty and the first treaty under the BC Treaty Commission process. This treaty became effective on April 3, 2009.
It was a historic day, marking the Tsawwassen First Nation as self-governing with the constitutional authority to make laws. In the six months leading up to the effective date of the treaty, the TFN was required to draft and enact 21 core laws – a project of enormous scope and magnitude. The TFN rose to the challenge with an innovative plan called the TFN Legislation Project, which had the guiding objective of creating a regime of laws with sufficient scope to authorize all TFN government actions.
NCFNG assisted the TFN by undertaking policy analysis and drafting framework legislation. This involved researching existing legislation (either from First Nations, federal, provincial or municipal governments), preparing policy briefs that explained policy questions and recommending policy options. Legislation was then drafted in consultation with a legal advisor, and then reviewed by the community-based Treaty Implementation Advisory Committee.
Many factors made the project a success. Chief among them was the use of multi-disciplinary teams of public policy officials, legal advisors and administrative officers. This kept the process firmly grounded in the community’s needs and values.
The Tsawwassen Government now operates under the Tsawwassen Constitution and has the power to enact laws under several fundamental matters. After a transition period, the Indian Act will no longer apply to the TFN and the TFN will exercise constitutionally protected self-government over its lands and citizens.
Combining contemporary laws with traditional principles and values, the legislation developed by the TFN is a landmark declaration of nationhood and a best practice in law-making.
“Our treaty is the right fit for our nation,” said Chief Kim Baird. “More land, cash and resources provide us the opportunity to create a healthy and viable community, free from the constraints of the Indian Act. We now have the tools to operate as a self-governing nation, for the first time in 131 years since the first Indian Act was introduced.”