Aug 3/98: Nisga'a deal sparks strong emotions


Victoria Times Colonist
August 3, 1998, p. A2

[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.]

Veteran political observer Norman Ruff says the Nisga'a deal has become "BC's Northern Ireland", as the political fault lines deepen. "We're trying to undo a couple of hundred years of unfinished business in resolving land emotions are running high," said Ruff, a UVic. political science professor. There are risks for both sides, he said. Clark has identified himself so openly for it among those who believe he is being a political opportunist. Campbell has to cope with accusations that a referendum could throw the entire treaty-making process into chaos.

Tom Molloy, chief federal negotiator in the Nisga'a talks, said the proposed treaty is laudable, especially when one considers the alternative. "In the absence of the certainty that the treaty will bring to the ownership of, and access to, land and resources, economic activity cannot reach its full potential." Most of the First Nations community is supportive of the agreement, which signals hope for negotiations with 51 other native Indian groups. "The message is that differences that occur between peoples can be addressed across the negotiating table," said Joe Gosnell, Nisga'a Tribal Council chief.

But a minority of native groups, including the hereditary Nisga'a chiefs themselves, are against the deal. Saul Terry, chief of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, representing a rump of Indian bands who are opposed to the treaty process, says the Nisga'a deal is about extinguishing Indian nations and replacing them with "mere delegated village councils or federal municipalities." Industry groups, such as the Council of Forest Industries, are withholding their views until Tuesday's signing. Hamar Foster, associate dean of UVic's law faculty, says the deal is "exceptionally moderate," given the potential demands the Nisga'a could have made.

They settled for a tenth of the land they originally sought. And a study estimates that resource industries creamed off up to $3-billion-worth of assets from the Nass Valley over the past 100 years. In the final analysis Ruff said, the agreement being signed Tuesday is a "done deal", as described by Clark. It will be ratified, he predicted, after a "rancorous debate" in the legislature, either this fall or in the spring, and after a vote is taken by the Nisga'a people and by the House of Commons. A Supreme Court of Canada reference as to whether the agreement changes the Constitution could throw a wrench into that process. One of Canada's foremost constitutional experts, Peter Hogg, said last week that the treaty will not become part of the Constitution. There is no legal requirement to put the issue to a referendum, said Hogg, dean of law at York university's Osgoode Hall Law School. In a written opinion, he went further, saying it would be "undesirable" to hold a referendum every time a treaty is entered into with aboriginal people." "It would be very difficult to communicate all the issues in a balanced way in a provincewide referendum campaign."

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