Jumping in the Deep End

My experience as a legislative member for my treaty nation

Jumping in the Deep End

When I recited the oath of office for my Treaty Government, I knew I was on a path that was going to be unpredictable, uncomfortable, and most likely, downright hard — three adjectives I’ve spent my life avoiding. The Yuułuʔiłʔatล Government is one of the five Maa-nulth Nations, signatory to the Maa-nulth Final Agreement (“the Treaty”) and by governance standards, is still in its’ infancy. My term (2019-2023) is only the third term of government under the Treaty. When I reflect on the first three and a half years of my term, it’s a complete whirlwind. They have been the longest and simultaneously the shortest years of my life.

I was assigned the Executive Assets portfolio, which includes housing, infrastructure, and economic development. Portfolios can be intimidating. In my case, I was only familiar with economic development because I had a seat on our economic development committee prior to being elected. The world of housing and infrastructure was completely overwhelming and intimidating. I learned quickly to rely on the knowledge, experience, and education of the technical staff who make the administration run. I was not meant to be a subject matter expert. We have those — they’re the directors, managers, and administrative staff (oh and all the lawyers!) who look to the governing body to make legislative and regulatory decisions to improve government services and delivery. Understanding this removed the intense pressure and allowed me to focus on the bigger picture through setting a course of strategic directions and laying out government priorities that have been identified through engagement with staff and citizens.

Being a treaty nation is an interesting experience. On one hand, it’s incredibly exciting. As a government we’re able to claim space and autonomy through our powers to draw down our own legislation and create our own regulations. So far in my term we have enacted ten laws, amended three, and implemented seven regulations.

On the other hand, it’s incredibly exhausting! As a leader, I’ve never really felt like I was “off the clock.” Outside of business hours I’m constantly thinking about where we are and worried about how to get to where we need to be. However, the goal post is constantly moving. New barriers are going up as old barriers are broken down. I suppose, this is the beauty of the Treaty — it’s intended to be evergreen, a living agreement that only ever sets out the minimum treaty rights and shouldn’t be interpreted as a maximum. This means the work is never done. All leaders can do is to try and keep momentum moving forward, which in a government context, is honestly never fast enough for my liking.

In the end, my guiding principles to my role included bringing community voices to the Executive table and making decisions that benefit all, not the few. These principles, though virtuous, opened me up to judgement and criticism because decisions can be unpopular. This is the part of my experience that was the most difficult for me to reconcile. I’m having to learn to let go of judgement, not fear but welcome criticism and trust that my intentions will stay true to the oath I swore to uphold.

My late father, Harold Touchie, was a council member for our nation for as long as I could remember. One of the pieces of advice he gave was “never get into politics.” Now, having been a part of it, I can understand why he would say that. It’s not easy, it’s thankless, it’s mostly full of criticism, and you must make difficult decisions. Despite all the bumps and hardship, over the last three years (especially with navigating COVID), I can say that I did the absolute best that I could, and for me, that’s enough. A jump in the deep end means there’s no where to go but up. I think I’m coming out on top.