[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]
A legal bid by B.C. natives to quash the historic Nisga'a land claims settlement has failed. In B.C. Supreme Court in Kamloops, Justice Robert Hunter refused Thursday to grant the Kincolith, a band within the Nisga'a First Nation, the injunction that would have delayed signing of the treaty. "I find no evidence of dishonesty or a lack of good faith (on part of the Nisga'a)," he said, adding almost $4.8 million has been spent on negotiations to date.
Hunter was satisfied any Nisga'a member not pleased with the deal can still vote against it in the coming months. The deal must still be ratified by 5,500 Nisga'a, the B.C. legislature and the House of Commons.
The modern-day treaty -- the first of its kind in B.C. -- gives the northern B.C. natives about 2,000 square kilometres of land, plus about $311 million, including $190 million in cash to be paid over 15 years. The agreement also includes extensive fishing, mineral and timber rights.
Hereditary Kincolith chiefs Frank Barton and James Robinson and several band members were seeking the injunction to stop the treaty from being initialed at a ceremony next week. The two chiefs say there was insufficient notice given to Nisga'a members in February 1996 of a meeting where a vote would be held regarding the agreement in principle that led to the final treaty. There was also no mention of a vote in the notice, only a meeting, they claimed.
Lawyer Thomas Berger, representing the Nisga'a, conceded there was no mention of a vote. He said it was simply an oversight on behalf of the Nisga'a Tribal Council. [S.I.S.I.S. note: Berger is a former BC Supreme Court Justice, former leader of the BC NDP, and has also worked for the World Bank.]
Both Barton and Robinson claim the Nisga'a Tribal Council has been "oppressive and prejudicial" in reaching the treaty.
Hunter did not agree. Omitting notice of a vote "does not constitute oppression or prejudicial conduct. I accept the evidence that it was an oversight," he said. Hunter also said the two chiefs were too slow in bringing their complaints forward, as the legal suit was filed in May 1997. The meeting in question took place in February 1996.
Nisga'a Tribal Council president Frank Gosnell would not comment on the decision.
Outside the courtroom, a disappointed Robinson said there was no way all the information needed could be gathered in a shorter period of time -- two years was necessary. "You have to appreciate the suppression and the discrimination that goes on there. I can't even live (in the Nass Valley) because of all the things that are going on with this," said Robinson, who resides in Merritt. Although a crushing blow to the Kincolith band, Robinson said the decision "is not really a loss."
"It's something that will possibly set us back but we'll regroup and try something else. Certainly, this is not the end," he said.