ARCHIVED - A Community’s Vision of the Future

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By: Anita Bedell

Metlakatla First Nation has a vision for their community — for the land, the sea, and the people.

A view of Metlakatla from the ferry dock
A view of Metlakatla from the ferry dock

Living throughout the Skeena River and Nass River Valleys and on the islands of the rugged west coast of British Columbia, the members of Metlakatla are descendants of the nine tribes of the Coast Tsimshian. They have been in the area for thousands of years, nurturing a symbiotic relationship with the land and sea. The small picturesque community of Metlakatla is perched on the tip of the Tsimshian Peninsula, flanking the sea. Often mistaken for being on an island, the mainland community is only accessible by boat. Without road access, the small community relies on its ferry service to get to nearby Prince Rupert. This presents Metlakatla with unique challenges as they plan for the future.

Hereditary Chiefs stand before new totem pole
Hereditary Chiefs stand before new totem pole

For Metlakatla, comprehensive community planning (CCP) is an ideal way to realize their vision of a healthy prosperous future for the community and its members. It has provided a structured process to guide them as they plan for the future. "CCP is a benchmark for us. We can start to check off what gets done," said Robert Grodecki, former Program Manager. For the community members, it means their feedback is being heard. They can see tangible results and progress.

A new Community Hall was one thing that the community unanimously requested. Completed last year, the beautiful cedar and wood building has a large gymnasium floor and industrial kitchen designed for large gatherings. Another recent addition to the community is a totem pole; the first one raised in Metlakatla in 160 years. It was a priority for the community, and stands as a visual representation of who they are, where they come from, and where they're going.

For Chief Councillor Harold Leighton, CCP is about partnerships and economic development. Leighton says that the community had been doing planning for years, but it wasn't until they embarked on CCP that they really became organized. "CCP brought everything together," said Leighton. Moving forward with a concrete plan has helped Metlakatla become successful in business. Metlakatla's Business Development Corporation now owns and operates 10 different businesses that employ Band members. "We recognize the opportunities and progress that can be realized through planning," said Leighton.

Metlakatla's success is founded on solid planning and strong relationships. Over the last five years, they have signed protocol agreements to work with the neighbouring municipalities of Prince Rupert and Port Edward, along with the Regional District and the Province of BC. They've also sought to strengthen their existing bond with Lax Kw'alaams, a neighbouring First Nation located in Port Simpson, north of Prince Rupert. Lax Kw'alaams and Metlakatla share territory and have common interests in sustainable development. Leighton recognizes that "if we're going to change things in the Pacific Northwest, we can't change things alone. We have to do it together."

Strong relationships are being built within the community too. According to Monica Ryan-Gamble, Metlakatla's Governance Clerk, the vision for the community came directly from the members. "From the children to the Elders; they are telling us what needs to be done."

Monica Ryan-Gamble
Ryan-Gamble standing before the new community hall

Ryan-Gamble admits that getting members excited for the future of the community was a challenge at first. Planning was not new to the community, and members often complained of having to fill out countless surveys that yielded few results. Holding group meetings with community members was a more successful approach, and she found that the feedback was surprisingly similar amongst the groups. Metlakatla has also recently held two Community Fairs, one in the community and one in nearby Prince Rupert, where members came out in record numbers. Ryan-Gamble feels they are starting to understand the importance of CCP, and what it means for the community.

Tangible progress has been made, but there's still a lot of work to do. The kids are asking for a school in the community that they can call their own. The Elders are asking for an Elder's Health Centre so they can stay in the community with their families while receiving necessary care. According to Ryan-Gamble, the real challenge now is implementing it and keeping CCP alive. "We don't want a product that looks good on a shelf," she says, referring to the recently completed CCP final report. "This is our plan. Our future."

First Nations in BC are becoming increasingly involved in comprehensive community planning as a way of embracing change and planning a better future for their communities. CCP is a holistic process that enables a community to build a roadmap to sustainability, self-sufficiency and improved governance capacity. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada supports First Nations communities as they embark on this important process. For more information on CCP, go to: