Gitanyow chiefs say NDP is giving Nisga'a their area
A group of Indian chiefs say the NDP government is ignoring the B.C. Supreme Court in its rush to sign the first modern-day native treaty. The Gitanyow hereditary chiefs -- who will lose 84 per cent of their claimed land base if the Nisga'a deal is inked, as rumored, within weeks -- plan to rebuff "the Nisga'a invasion." Threats and physical confrontations have already occurred and are sure to escalate in the disputed territory if the deal is signed, Gitanyow negotiator Debbie Good said yesterday.
"We blame the B.C. government, not the Nisga'a. When the B.C. government says it's prepared to ignore the Supreme Court and give the Nisga'a constitutional rights to Gitanyow land, why should the Nisga'a bother to talk to us? The Nisga'a haven't been on our land for decades but now they think they've got the green light, so they're coming in and cutting our nets, shoving people around and making threats."
The Gitanyow will appear in court on Tuesday to argue their case. Gitanyow hereditary chief Abel Campbell, 84, who has lived all his life in territory that would be swallowed up by the Nisga'a claim, said: "We are angry now. We've never ever retaliated, but we will not live under Nisga'a law in our own land."
Gitanyow chief negotiator Glen Williams said fishing and hunting sites, camps and a village of the 2,000-member Gitanyow all lie within the Nisga'a claim area. Yet the B.C. Treaty Commission has accepted the same land for negotiation with the Gitanyow. "What would be left for us to negotiate if the Nisga'a take all our land?" said Williams, calling it "divide and conquer, by government."
In a decision last month, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Williamson agreed, noting the Gitanyow believe Victoria and Ottawa "have rendered it impossible for [the Nisga'a] to bargain in good faith with the Gitanyow. I conclude they may well be correct." And the judge agreed with both sides that "myriad court applications seem inevitable unless the treaty-negotiation process deals with overlapping claims."
B.C. Aboriginal Affairs Minister Dale Lovick is "caught between a rock and a hard place," said ministry spokesman Peter Smith. He said Lovick's options are either to ignore overlapping land claims, which are common, or appear intransigent by refusing to sign the Nisga'a deal. The government is under mounting public pressure and industry complaints that uncertainty over unsettled native claims is costing B.C. millions of investment dollars.
In a June 30 letter, Lovick told Williams that the provincial government did "not share the same views of Mr. Justice Williamson's reasons for judgment. B.C. is not prepared to give an undertaking to refrain from initialling a Nisga'a treaty."
Nisga'a chief negotiator Joseph Gosnell confirmed "that after negotiating 25 years, we're hopeful all parties could initial the treaty by the end of July."
"As for my good neighbors, the Gitanyow, we've tried to resolve this issue with them, but if they want to take the legal route, we'll see them in court."
VANCOUVER (CP) - The Gitanyow First Nation, claiming it's been excluded from a land claims dispute with Nisga'a neighbors on overlapping territory, said Tuesday it will launch a legal challenge.
Members of the Gitanyow, whose traditional territory encompasses much of the upper Nass Valley in northwestern B.C., will be in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday to begin a challenge of an agreement-in-principle reached with the Nisga'a two years ago.
At a news conference, the Gitanyow said federal and provincial governments are violating the treaty process because they were excluded from land claim negotiations involving the Nisga'a.
"The Gitanyow are seeking a court declaration that the federal and B.C. governments are not negotiating in good faith," said lawyer Peter Grant.
The Gitanyow are also seeking a declaration that governments can't negotiate with one First Nation on subject matter that is part of another claim.
The group has been trying to reach a sharing agreement with the Nisga'a on overlapping territory since 1982, said Grant.
Joe Gosnell, Nisga'a Tribal Council president, said he's "satisfied that Canada has recognized that we have used our best efforts and that was the requirement by the Canadian government with respect to treaty negotiations (on) the overlap situation."
The Nisga'a, primarily located in the lower and middle Nass River area, and the Gitanyow, on the upper Nass, have claims to vast traditional territories that overlap. Overlaps are fairly common, says a spokesman for the B.C. Treaty Commission, which is charged with overseeing land claims negotiations involving the federal government and various First Nations.
"Many of the First Nations have overlaps, but its not necessarily a problem," said Brian Mitchell. In many instances, he said, First Nations involved will reach agreement between themselves before the treaty process begins with the two governments.
When the treaty process got started in earnest a few years ago, First Nations actually claimed 111 per cent of the province. But some First Nations are not involved in the treaty commission process and have overlaps with others who are participating, he said. Those must be worked out among all parties before a final agreement is reached.
Although the Nisga'a agreement-in-principle would give them about 1,900 square kilometres in the valley, they would also get some rights to fishing, forestry, hunting and wildlife management outside the designated area but within their traditional territory.
The Gitanyow say that signing a final agreement with the Nisga'a would exclude them from obtaining the same rights because of the overlap dispute. They claim that 84 per cent of their traditional territory is included in the Nisga'a tentative agreement.
In a letter to the B.C. Aboriginal Affairs Minister Dale Lovick, Gitanyow hereditary chiefs say the "signing of the agreement-in-principle with the Nisga'a effectively shuts the door to much of the Gitanyow claim being negotiated."
"We are right at the eleventh hour," said Gitanyow negotiator Glen Williams. "We are trying to get the attention of government to try and deal with it."