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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Traditional Nisga'a leadership : the challenges through change Nyce, Deanna L. E.


Wilp Wilxo’oskwhl Nisga’a Institute’s Committee of Sages expressed concern that the new generation of leaders were unaware of and were not practising traditional diplomacy demanded of Nisga’a statespeople. Research was undertaken to explore the idea of Elders as cultural refugia who retain leadership traditions despite imposed social tumult and who understand how to convey those traditions to future generations. Knowledge holders known for their leadership would be interviewed to see how they have kept the ancient knowledge despite cultural and ecological disruptions. The primary research question was: “What qualities of leadership have sustained Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and how does tradition-based leadership enable cultures and ecosystems to survive during times of change?” To answer this question, I first had to describe the qualities that define Nisga’a leadership and thus identify its numerous facets. Leaders know about place: they have intimate knowledge of the land and of the animate and inanimate components of the landscape. Leaders know about people – how to accomplish transitions between leaders and how to handle difficult situations requiring a unified response. Leaders are fluent in Nisga’a language – the language provides clear insights into the intricacies of traditional history and cultural protocols such as wilxo’oskw (wisdom or knowledge), as well as ‘ancient family histories and sacred family origin stories.’ These qualities informed the research methodology. Interviews with Elders recommended from within the Committee of Sages were conducted in both the Nisga’a language and English. Transcripts in Nisga’a were then interpreted into English. Portions of the interviews were left in Nisga’a and were interpreted by the Elders themselves. To keep the Elders’ voices intact, rather than rewording the interviews, I left portions of the interviews intact, in both English and Nisga’a. The words of the Elders were grouped in themes defining Nisga’a leadership. The stories, concepts, and phrases knowledge holders shared were found to have value in many aspects of Nisga’a life, including educating new leaders and the role of leadership in the management of Nisga’a life. Nisga’a wisdom also provides ideas useful to all cultures, and perhaps in particular to Indigenous cultures whose peoples may struggle with similar issues.

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