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February 2014

Analyzing First Nations well-being under self-governance

In 2009, the Tsawwassen First Nation, situated south-west of Vancouver, became the first in British Columbia to sign a self-governance treaty with the governments of Canada and British Columbia. It effectively set up a new government jurisdiction for the local population under the formal treaty negotiation process, allowing them to pass new laws over their land and decide, independent of other levels of government, how the community should be managed.

But the Tsawwassen First Nation lacked systematic information about their people such as their socio-economic status, education, health, and desires for a better community — information vital to guide the self-governance process.  They reached out to University of British Columbia professor Ralph Matthews from the Department of Sociology to help conduct a detailed survey on all aspects of well-being of the population. 

Through Mitacs Accelerate and with the support of Mitacs Business Development Director Laurence Meadows, Dr. Matthews obtained the necessary funding for a large cluster internship.  Clusters are Mitacs Accelerate projects that are scalable over longer periods for bigger research projects with a minimum of three interns and with improved financial leveraging for the partner organization.

Three graduate student interns were involved in carrying out one-on-one interviews with 60% of the adult population of the Tsawwassen First Nation and in analyzing the data to create a statistically-valid body of information about the community. Those living on Tsawwassen lands and those living elsewhere were involved.

“What we have built over this year-and-a-half research project is a way to measure the well-being of a First Nations community based on their values about what constitutes well-being.  The Tsawwassen First Nation is engaged in an incredible new venture under this treaty of independence, and they want to make sure that they have the data and support to do it,” explained Dr. Matthews.

“The survey can be repeated in the future, making it an invaluable tool for all forms of social, economic, cultural and governance planning.  Future interviews can document changes in community well-being over time under the new treaty.”

One intern, Jordan Tesluk, who is completing his PhD in sociology at UBC, conducted many of the interviews and compiled detailed reports on the results to help guide community leaders with important decisions.

“The Nation represents a unique social and political entity.  They now have the ability to do another round of interviews in four-to-five years and compare changes in community well-being over time under the new treaty.”

Jordan says it is an example of how sociological research is helping a Canadian community learn about itself and plan for the future.

“Through this research, we are playing an important role in assisting First Nations to understand their challenges, and identify the potential effects of choices that they may have to make.”

Colin Ward, Manager of Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs at the Tsawwassen First Nation said that the large scale research project would not have been possible without Mitacs connecting them with UBC.

“We needed a lot of research and data collection to help guide us on how to make the best decisions for our people under the Treaty.  By going through Mitacs, we will have a greater level of sophistication with the analysis and have the support of expert researchers from UBC that we wouldn’t get elsewhere.”

 


Mitacs gratefully acknowledges the Government of Canada, the Networks of Centres of Excellence's Industrial Research and Development Internship program, Western Economic Diversification, and the Government of British Columbia for their support of Mitacs Accelerate in the province.