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“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” ~~ John G. Diefenbaker

The only people who have a right to decide who represents them are the band members themselves – Skeena MLA Ellis Ross

Former Chief Councillor of the Haisla
Nation, & now Skeena MLA, Ellis Ross

Originally published, on January 26th, in the Vancouver Sun – reprinted with permission of the author, Skeena MLA Ellis Ross


The heated debate over who holds authority over the territory of First Nations — be it hereditary chiefs or elected band leaders — may serve the interests of those seeking to disrupt construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, but it does absolutely nothing for the well-being of an average Aboriginal living on reserve.

As an elected councillor for the Haisla First Nation, and later chief councillor, I grew up experiencing dismal employment prospects, children being raised in poverty, tragic suicides, and horrific rates of Aboriginal youth ending up in the prison system.

We’ve always had to cope with outsiders and so-called experts telling us who best represents First Nations, or what we should do within our own territory. Yet none of these people have ever lived on reserve or spent any significant time with the people who actually live there.

Think about it. It would be the same as me telling the people of British Columbia to denounce the federal or provincial government because the Queen of England has the final say in all matters. Sorry, democracy doesn’t work that way.

The only people who have a right to decide who represents them are the band members themselves.

The fact is all 20 First Nations whose territory runs along the pathway of the Coastal GasLink pipeline — including the Wet’suwet’en — have each signed agreements with the company. Professional protesters and well-funded NGOs have merely seized the opportunity to divide our communities for their own gains, and ultimately will leave us penniless when they suddenly leave.

All 203 First Nations bands in B.C. have unique and different forms of governance and, for the most part, they are satisfied with their systems.


My fellow First Nation leaders, both elected and non-elected, spent years investigating everything we could about LNG through environmental assessments, reviewing permits, government-to-government negotiations, and all the while trying to keep our members apprised of our progress.

It is therefore truly ignorant for non-Aboriginals to declare that elected Aboriginal leaders are only responsible for “on reserve issues” or are a “construct of the Indian Act meant to annihilate the Indian.”

I was an elected Aboriginal leader for 14 years and I never intended to annihilate anyone.



My goal was to do everything I could to make sure my kids and grand-kids didn’t grow up knowing the myriad social issues that accompany poverty. I’m pretty sure all chiefs — elected and non-elected — feel the same way.

When a remote First Nation like the Wet’suwet’en is thrown into the media spotlight, and the question of authority is raised, it can divide an entire community right down to family and friends.

It’s up to our communities to answer the representation question without intimidation and the interference of “allies” who only seek to control the narrative.

Simplistic solutions to complex problems have always been a problem for band councils trying to make life better for their own.

Allowing outsiders to undermine and dismiss years of careful consideration and consultation with elected chiefs who want nothing more than to secure a brighter future for their membership, is quite unacceptable and I will continue to speak out against it.


Ellis Ross was elected MLA for Skeena in 2017, and serves as the official opposition critic for LNG and Resource Opportunities. He is also a Member of the Select Standing Committee on Legislative Initiatives.

Ellis has worked in both the private and public sectors, and has business experience in hand logging, beachcombing, and construction. He worked full time as a taxi boat operator until the Haisla Nation Council requested that he become their first full-time councillor. Ellis served in this position for eight years, from 2003 to 2011. In 2011, Ellis was elected Chief Councillor of the Haisla Nation, and was re-elected by acclamation in 2013.

Ellis has been recognized as a business leader by both BC Business magazine and Canadian Business magazine. In 2012, Ellis was appointed the inaugural chair of the Aboriginal Business and Investment Council. In 2014, he was the only First Nations leader among 25 Canadians invited by then-Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to a public policy and budget retreat.

In recognition of his community service, Ellis was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal in 2013 and the Order of BC in 2014.

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