Susan Miller knows she has her work cut out for her as new chief of the Katzie First Nation.
But with three decades of administrative experience in band offices in the Lower Mainland, (Katzie, Tsawwassen, Kwantlen, Kwikwetlem and the Sto:Lo Nation in Chilliwack), she knows what she’s getting into.
“I understand the dynamics it takes to run an administrative office.”
But now she’s back with her own band, helping the Katzie First Nation as it works its way through the treaty process and seeks a new future.
On April 1, Miller, 51, from the band’s reserve in Langley, began her first full two-year term as chief.
The new chief and band council were sworn in during a ceremony in Pitt Meadows.
Miller was previously elected to a partial term of office on Oct. 25 of last year in a runoff vote to settle a tied election that was necessary, following the resignation of Ed Pierre as chief in August.
In an interview with Black Press, she talked openly about the discord within the community and how people were not talking to each other at the band’s headquarters on the Katzie’s Pitt Meadows reserve, sandwiched between Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.
“It was like a cemetery,” Miller said.
“I feel like I’m in a prison. This is a community. It needs to come back to being a community.”
She said she would run again for another two-year term, so she can help heal the reserve and the office that almost closed down.
“My goal is to start to change that, to start to heal that,” Miller said. “I believe that I know a lot of the things that need to be done.”
She wants council to become more focused on the community and the band, rather than on internal matters.
The Katzie First Nation is negotiating a treaty with the federal and provincial governments, which will give the nation the ability to run its own affairs.
Miller said that will require shifting mindsets from the paternalism of the Indian Act to operating as an autonomous entity, with a treaty in place.
“When you have the ability to begin to truly govern yourself when it comes to land use, law making, education, the whole world just opens up to you,” she said.
Miller was raised in Langley by her foster mom, Ilona Marshall, who says Miller has been a level-headed type ever since she came into her life.
“What amazed me was the sense and character of this young woman was beyond her years,” Marshall said following Miller’s first election win.
Whenever there was an issue, even during the teen years, Marshall said she and Miller sat down and discussed it and worked out agreements.
“And she always kept her word.”
The Katzie First Nation has reserves in Pitt Meadows, Langley and on Barnston Island.
A new elementary school in the Clayton area of Surrey, to be named Katzie Elementary after the First Nation, will open later this year.