A Q&A with Nisga’a Manager of Economic Development Bert Mercer about how his communities are working to build stronger local economies

April 4, 2014

Located just over an hour north of Terrace in northwestern B.C., the Nisga’a First Nation is located in the rugged mountains of the Nass Valley, which is home to soaring peaks, dramatic lava beds, picturesque fjords and thriving rivers and streams. In 1999, the Nisga’a signed the first modern day treaty with the Province of British Columbia, charting a new path of empowerment, growth and opportunity for the Nisga’a people. Northwest B.C. is currently experiencing an economic boom, but how are the Nisga’a taking advantage of these opportunities? To get the inside scoop, we chatted with Nisga’a Manager of Economic Development Bert Mercer.

Q: What are the current projects that you are working on to drive economic growth for the Nisga’a?

A: We network with the Nisga’a Villages and the Nisga’a urban locals on economic and business initiatives. I provide advisory services to Nisga’a entrepreneurs and I administer the Nisga’a Business Development Fund. In total, we have invested $1.1 million toward entrepreneurs for economic growth.

Q: Guided by Nisga’a culture and best practices from around the world, Nisga’a Lisims Government works to improve the lives of Nisga’a people. How would you describe the Nisga’a approach to economic development?

A: We have developed a prosperity plan that highlights 11 actionable items with implementation plans to support economic growth for the Nisga’a Nation. We support Nisga’a citizens or corporations that have viable sustainable business initiatives (and create employment and profits). It doesn’t matter where a Nisga’a resides, we provide support through the Nisga’a Business Development fund. The Nisga’a Villages, with support from Nisga’a Lisims Government, are currently working in collaboration to develop a detailed tourism strategy and implementation plan to initiate tourism activity.

Q: You recently became one of the first First Nations people in Canada to purchase a house on aboriginal land in fee simple. What does this mean to you as a First Nations person and an economic development manager?

A: Private Nisga’a homeowners currently have Nation Entitlements and Village Entitlements where their personal homes are located. Having fee simple ownership of the property gives you ownership similar to homeowners in municipalities and cities across Canada and throughout the world. Fee simple status opens doors with mainstream financial institutions where a Nisga’a citizen can apply for a second mortgage, using their home and property as equity. The equity can also be used to invest in a Nisga’a entrepreneurial venture. 

Q: A key priority for the Nisga’a Lisims Government is to ensure the preservation of Nisga’a culture. How do you support that priority as an economic development manager?

A: As an Economic Development Manager for the Nisga’a Nation, I do have a vision when moving business forward in the natural resource sector to protect our land and culture. The Nisga’a Nation ensures that those projects are environmentally sound and that they create sustainable prosperity through employment and improve the quality of life for all Nisga’a now and in the future (and that the projects have support from the Nisga’a nation and Nisga’a citizens).

Q: In your own words – why do you love the Nass Valley?

A: The Nass Valley offers everything that I need to survive. It offers tourism activity, backcountry recreation, sport fishing and hunting. We can live off the land like our ancestors did as long as we preserve and respect our culture and land. The land offers many economic opportunities for entrepreneurs that want to improve their livelihood.