Lead Governments: Xeni Gwet’in First Nation and Yuneŝit’in Government with the support of the Tsilhqot’in National Government
Read more about the Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an communities and government in the Additional Context Section.
Governance model: Solely Indigenous-led (Co-governed by Xeni Gwet’in First Nation and Yunesit’in Government)
Established: Announced in October 2014.
Read more about Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an in the Establishment Section.
Location: Tsilhqot’in territory (southern interior of B.C.) about 125 km southwest of Williams Lake
Approximate size: 3,200km2
Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an was designed to connect to other protected areas (e.g., B.C. Parks, Tsilhqot’in Title Lands, etc.). Including Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an, the overall area is 9,418km2.
- The leadership of Xeni Gwet’in First Nation and Yunesit’in Government jointly governs the area with the support of a technical team and with community input.
- Plans are underway to create an Advisory Board and a Working Group.
- Protects the Dasiqox watershed, including mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, culturally and ecologically important places, plants and wildlife.
- Includes areas untouched by industrial development and areas heavily impacted by forestry.
- Does not include, but is adjacent to, Tsilhqot’in title lands.
- Potential mining development and ongoing logging threatens the area.
Vision Statement and Principles:
The vision for Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an reflects the priorities, values, and input from extensive engagement with Tsilhqot’in communities over several years. Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an has four main goals:
- Ecological protection;
- Cultural revitalization;
- Sustainable livelihoods; and
- Health and healing.
See the Nexwagwez?an Community Vision and Management Goals (PDF)
Vision and Principles
“With the Dasiqox Tribal Park, the Tsilhqot’in people assert our responsibility and our right to protect this place where the waters, land, forests, animals, and people are full of life, thriving, healthy, and strong in our relationships with each other.
We are part of the land; the land is part of us. We take care of each other. Our spirits are joined with this place, through time.
The Dasiqox Tribal Park is the heart of a strong Tsilhqot’in culture. It is a place where we hunt, fish, learn, teach, and share while spending time out on the land respectfully, a place where we feel happy and healthy.
It is there for us; it is there for future generations. Nexwagweẑʔan.”
Source: Nexwagweẑʔan: Community Vision and Management Goals for Dasiqox Tribal Park (PDF)
A map of Dasiqox Tribal Park Initiative 2020. (Source: Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an website)
Video: Gagulhchugh Nen Gagusun (The land looks good all around).
Who makes decisions?
Currently, the Chief of Xeni Gwet’in and the Chief of Yunesit’in (or their appointed Councillors), or “leadership,” make decisions about Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an. The Chiefs and Councillors of Xeni Gwet’in are elected for a five-year renewable term. While the leadership for Yunesit’in are elected for a four-year renewable term and elections are staggered every two years.
Dasiqox-Nexwagwezʔan is within the Shared Caretaker Area of the Xeni Gwet’in and Yunesit’in. This is an area for which both communities have traditionally shared responsibility and use. Xeni Gwet’in and Yunesit’in signed a Shared Caretaker Agreement, called the “Yunesit’in and Xeni Gwet’in Shared Territorial Caretaker Protocol Agreement” (currently not a public document) as the basis for co-governing Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an. This agreement outlines the commitment and decision process by which both communities work together cooperatively to govern and manage the shared area. The agreement is the basis for Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an’s joint Indigenous decision-making model.
According to Russell Myers Ross (Yunesit’in), Governance Advisor for Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an:
“This agreement binds us in some form of unity, so if something is going to happen on our land, we can both deal with it together. That was the foundation, that thread of unity.”
A technical team supports leadership with decision-making. This small team of core members has varied between one and four members. The core team maintains long-term institutional knowledge of the initiative through leadership changes.
Technical team positions are formally listed as follows, though in practice roles and responsibilities cross all portfolios and are shared as necessary to get the work done:
● Community Coordinator;
● Team Coordinator;
● Governance Advisor; and
● Stewardship and Management Planner
Advising and taking direction from leadership, the technical team advances Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an and carries out day-to-day operations. The technical team is involved in:
● Programming (cultural, youth, language, stewardship, employment, training);
● Community engagement;
● Political negotiations and strategy;
● Stewardship, monitoring, and restoration;
● Management planning, implementation, and operations;
● Liaising and collaborating with related Tsilhqot’in government initiatives, staff, and contractors;
● Research and partnerships;
● Fundraising and donor relations; and
Advisory Board and Working Group
The Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an Initiative is in the process of creating an Advisory Board and a Working Group. Each body will have a distinct role, though neither will hold final decision-making power.
The Advisory Board will consider governance, legal, political and applied aspects of Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an, and will advise leadership, making recommendations on relevant strategic and legal negotiations. The Advisory Group will be composed of a majority of Tsilhqot’in members, as well as key legal and technical staff or contractors.
The Working Group will be a task-oriented group responsible for advancing, reviewing, and supporting the completion of the management plan and related projects. The Working Group will be composed of community members from Xeni Gwet’in and Yunesit’in and will be supported and facilitated by members of the Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an core technical team.
These bodies will support consistency in decision-making and engage diverse community members in operations of the IPCA, while relieving some pressures on elected leadership.
How are decisions made?
Leadership from the two communities make consensus-based decisions. The technical team supports decision-making by providing information, briefings, options, technical advice, and making recommendations as appropriate. The technical team also helps to inform and support leadership decisions by liaising with community members, Indigenous government staff, contractors, academics, researchers, and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners, and bringing their collective experience to discussions at the decision-making table.
According to Russell Myers Ross (Yunesit’in), Governance Advisor for Dasiqox-Nexwagwezʔan:
“…the governance [of Dasiqox-Nexwagwezʔan] is meant to ensure stability as it ensures both communities are part of the decision-making and seek the best advice from technical personnel and values expressed by the community. The ability to respond to advice, diversity, and new ideas of innovation is the place that we want to be to create legitimacy.”
Diagram: The planned decision-making process for the Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an Initiative.
When formed, the recommendations of the Advisory Board will be made by consensus and presented to leadership. Since the process is underway, details are being worked out.
The Shared Caretaker Agreement between Xeni Gwet’in and Yunesit’in outlines a dispute resolution process that can be used.
The leadership and technical team meet quarterly to review progress, discuss strategy, programming and opportunities, delegate work, allocate resources, and make decisions.
Members of the technical team meet monthly or more often as needed to advance projects and work between the governance meetings.
The technical team, working under the direction of leadership, are engaged in an ongoing management planning process for Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an. This process has been developed from within the Dasiqox team. The planning process draws on Tsilhqot’in customs, governance strategies, planning, and facilitation techniques for community engagement. Leadership and the technical team are in the process of finalizing the plan after receiving extensive community input.
The management plan includes reports, community engagement materials, operational guidelines for specific sectors and activities, work plans, and guidelines or standards, among other outputs.
The plan has two audiences:
- Internal: A guide for leadership, decision-making, management and operations; and
- External: A guide for other governments, industry, visitors, and people engaging in activities in Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an.
Key components of the plan include:
- The context, story, and purpose of Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an;
- Foundational principles and values, rooted in Tsilhqot’in law;
- Governance and management roles and responsibilities;
- Goals, objectives, strategies, targets, and actions;
- Management areas, zones, and/or designated activities; and
- A framework for ongoing monitoring and evaluation.
Since 2016, the technical team has engaged community members in many ways, including:
- Land-based gatherings;
- Interviews, focus groups;
- Open houses; and
- Family meetings for community members.
The Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an team documented, reviewed, edited, and translated community input with consent from participants.
Tsilhqot’in leaders and knowledge holders reviewed drafts of the management plan. This ensures that the priorities and values of community members and Elders are included in the plan.
The management planning process is a strong and collaborative model. The Tsilhqot’in National Government has adopted the model in land use planning. Other IPCAs across Canada have also followed this example. The Technical Team has shared this model with other communities, First Nations, and government representatives through meetings and presentations.
Read more about management planning and community engagement for Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an in the Additional Context Section.
Who are decision-makers accountable to?
Decision-makers are accountable to Xeni Gwet’in and Yunesit’in Elders and community members, as well as to nenqay (the lands, waters, animals, plants, spirits and place as a whole). The leadership of Xeni Gwet’in and Yunesit’in are accountable to each other, and to the communities, as outlined in the Shared Caretaker Agreement.
Laws and Legislation
The Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an Initiative is striving for Tsilhqot’in laws to inform the management and operations of Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an. Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an is an expression of Tsilhqot’in responsibilities to the lands and waters which are upheld by Tsilhqot’in law. Many Xeni Gwet’in and Yunesit’in members—especially Elders—practice Tsilhqot’in law.
The technical team is conducting interviews with Elders to gather information about traditional Tsilhqot’in law.
Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an Initiative is not seeking protection under provincial (B.C.) or federal (Canada) legislation at this time. However, the communities do have intentions to negotiate with the Crown. It was important to ensure that the Management Plan was designed based on the vision and plans of the communities before negotiations were pursued.
Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an is protected solely under Tsilhqot’in law. This means that Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an is vulnerable to unwanted mining development and logging by external companies.
Read more about the Tsilhqot’in 30-year struggle to prevent the construction and operation of a proposed mine in the Establishment Section.
Advantages and Challenges of Governance Model
The summary below is based on the current governance structure. Decisions are currently made by the leadership of both communities, with the support of a technical team.
- An agile structure that supports flexibility, experimentation, and quick action.
- The vision, principles, and management planning express community input and Tsilhqot’in values and priorities.
- Technical staff can reduce burden on leaders.
- The Shared Caretaker Agreement supports a joint Indigenous co-governance model in shared territories.
- A good working relationship exists among leaders and between leaders and staff.
- Capacity and availability of elected leadership is limited.
- The turnover of elected leaders affects consistency and institutional knowledge.
- A lack of Crown legislation to protect Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an leaves it vulnerable to resource extraction.
- Youdelis, M., Townsend, J., Bhattacharya, J., Moola, F., & Fobister, J. B. (2021). Decolonial conservation: Establishing Indigenous Protected Areas for future generations in the face of extractive capitalism. Journal of Political Ecology.
- Bhattacharyya, J., & Slocombe, S. (2017). Animal agency: Wildlife management from a kincentric perspective. Ecosphere, 8(10), e01978.
Protecting the Land for Future Generations
As the Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an Initiative explains, “We are developing an alternative vision for the management and governance of the land in this area that reflects the values of our people, who live from the land.”
With the guidance of Elders and community input, Xeni Gwet’in and Yunesit’in announced Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an in October 2014. Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an focuses its efforts on environmental protection, cultural revitalization, sustainable livelihoods, and health and healing.
More recently the Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an Initiative dropped the words “Tribal Park” from the name. Although Tribal Park was initially suggested by Elders, the word “park” raises concerns for some community members. They worry that if it is a park, then they will not be able to hunt, trap, or access those areas, which is not the case.
The Tsilhqot’in word “Nexwagwez?an,” which translates to “there for us,” better reflects the intent of the IPCA.
The communities did not want to pursue Crown protected areas (like provincial parks and conservancies) because they would have had less say over what happens in these areas.
Diagram: A timeline of events leading to the establishment of Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an. (Originally published in Youdelis, M. & Townsend, J. & Bhattacharyya, J. & Moola, F. & Fobister, J., (2021) “Decolonial conservation: establishing Indigenous Protected Areas for future generations in the face of extractive capitalism”, Journal of Political Ecology 28(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/jpe.4716)
Why establish Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an?
Two of the main reasons why the communities announced Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an were because of an important court decision and to protect the area from resource extraction.
2014 Tsilhqot’in Decision
In September 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized Tsilhqot’in title over approximately 1800km2 of their title claim area in the southern interior of B.C. This case was the first (and so far, only) time Canada recognized the existence of “Aboriginal title.” This means that Tsilhqot’in communities will have more authority to make decisions about what happens in title lands.
However, the Supreme Court of Canada did not recognize Tsilhqot’in title over all of Tsilhqot’in territory. According to Russell Myers Ross, Governance Advisor for Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an:
“We couldn’t be fazed by the fact that there is a declaration and it didn’t include certain parts [of our territory]. We said this whole place is significant to us. It’s still sacred to us. We still think this whole area is significant to our survival and to our culture, we’re not going to abandon this area. We still have to honour our responsibilities; we still have to honour our stories that reside there and the animals that live there.
Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an is at the head waters of Tsilhqot’in Nation, where we need to be very sensitive as water runs downhill. B.C. and Canadian history has shown large impacts to our lands, water, resources, and Aboriginal Title & Rights.”
Conflicts over resource extraction
While the Supreme Court of Canada decision was cause for celebration, there was also a problem. A major open-pit gold and copper mine was proposed in part of Tsilhqot’in territory where title was not recognized. This area included two especially sacred places for Tsilhqot’in peoples: Teztan Biny (a lake) and Nabas (surrounding area). The Dasiqox headwaters, river, and watershed are also in this area and are all ecologically and culturally significant.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency would not allow the project to go ahead, but the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Office approved the project. The federal assessment agency found that if the project was built, it would have major environmental impacts and cultural impacts on the Tsilhqot’in.
The Tsilhqot’in fought this mining proposal for about 30 years. A standstill agreement was reached in 2020, and finally, in 2021 the project appears to have been dropped. However, there is still a risk that a new mining project could be proposed before the mineral leases expire.
Communities and Government
Xeni Gwet’in and Yunesit’in are two of six Tsilhqot’in communities (or First Nations). Each community has its own elected Chief and Council. The Xeni Gwet’in First Nation has 455 registered members and the Yunesit’in Government has 493 registered members. About half of the members live on reserve.
The six Tsilhqot’in communities are members of the Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG). TNG’s mission is to “empower Tŝilhqot’in peoples to exercise, effectively and appropriately, their rights to self-determination in their traditional territories in ways which reflect Tŝilhqot’in philosophy, values, experience, and culture.” TNG includes leadership from each community and is involved in negotiations with B.C. and Canada.
Since 2015, the Dasiqox-Nexwagwez?an Initiative has engaged Tsilhqot’in members, and neighbouring communities by hosting, participating in, and producing:
- On the land gatherings;
- Community meetings and dinners;
- Monthly general assemblies;
- Open houses, focus groups, and interviews;
- Informal discussions and formal presentations at community events;
- Culture and language camps on the land;
- Social media, a web page, and videos; and
- Newsletters, pamphlets, and posters.
For more information, see these resources:
Alliances and Partnerships
The IPCA was declared with the support of Friends of the Nemaiah Valley, a volunteer not-for-profit society composed of allies who have helped fight against unwanted development in the territory. Friends of the Nemiah Valley fundraised to commission reports and studies on Indigenous protected areas and what opportunities these might offer Xeni Gwet’in and Yunesit’in.
They also managed research, established funding partnerships, and managed administration and funding in the early years before passing everything directly to the First Nations.
Dasiqox-Nexwagwezʔan is currently administered on the MakeWay Foundation Shared Platform. With direction from Dasiqox leadership and Coordinators, MakeWay provides administrative support and manages the IPCA’s accounting. The IPCA’s primary funding comes from the Wilburforce Foundation, with additional support from other organizations.
The IPCA has benefited from collaborations with researchers and academics, including through the Core Technical Team members’ relationships with the University of Victoria and The University of British Columbia, as well as the Conservation through Reconciliation Partnership. Dasiqox-Nexwagwezʔan has been featured in multiple academic articles, chapters, theses, op-eds, and newspaper articles.
The Tsilhqot’in have also been developing relationships with local non-Indigenous residents for decades, which has helped to facilitate understanding and support for Dasiqox Nexwagwezʔan. According to Dr. Roger William, Team Coordinator and Community Outreach for Dasiqox Nexwagwez?an:
“There’s a lot of relationship history with tenure holders and private landowners. There’s been communications and meetings, or as people just meeting in coffee shops or through schools. There’s that history there, and that gives us an idea of what their issues are.
And some of them share similar concerns with government and the impact of development with us. That history is there, some of it is good, some of it is bad. But navigating and communicating and understanding is really, really important to what we’re trying to do.”
Indigenous Guardians Program
There is a desire to fund and build out an Indigenous Guardians Program as part of the IPCA’s long-term plan.
The Tsilhqot’in have developed a Title Land Ranger program which includes 12 trained rangers from four Tsilhqot’in communities. The Rangers monitor and care for the entire Declared Title Area recognized by the Supreme Court. Dasiqox is directly adjacent to this area.
How do Tsilhqot’in Peoples Exercise Rights and Responsibilities?
Dasiqox-Nexwagwezʔan is an assertion of Tsilhqot’in rights and responsibilities to their entire territory. The Tsilhqot’in exercise their rights to practice their livelihoods in the whole territory, and to protect the lands and waters from unwanted development.
According to Dasiqox-Nexwagwezʔan Governance Advisor, Russell Myers Ross:
“I think for those that want to begin the process [of establishing an IPCA], it’s important to have a committed, unifying cause, with mutual values as a place to start. If I were to distill a few important pieces that have worked, I would look at the leadership that cares deeply about the area, willing and eager to work as a team for a common cause and to speak in a unifying way.