Jul 14/98: Nisga'a agreement to be signed


The Vancouver Sun
July 14, 1998

[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.]

After 25 years of arguments and compromises, negotiators representing the Nisga'a and federal and provincial governments, are expected to initial a final treaty agreement Wednesday, Joe Gosnell, president of the Nisga'a Tribal Council, said Monday. "There are now no outstanding issues," he said of the deal that will cede 1,930 square kilometres in the Nass River Valley to the Nisga'a along with a $190 million cash payment.

What remains to be done over the next day is to figure out the legal language of the final points that had been under dispute, he said. Negotiators would not discuss what those issues were. But sources say they were disputes over:

- "Certainty" -- a term used to ensure the treaty extinguishes all future claims once the deal is signed. Paul Tennant, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia who specializes in aboriginal issues, says the term is misleading since it's impossible to achieve in corporate agreements, never mind treaties. "[But] we can get a deal about what they won't claim in the future -- more lands, for example;"

- The pay back of the more than $30 million experts estimate the Nisga'a borrowed from the federal government to pay for lawyers, negotiators and consultants to complete the deal. The Nisga'a have been arguing that they are breaking new ground for those who follow, and so should not have to pay the whole load. But, the government worries forgiving the loan or parts of it would set a precedent, encouraging those who follow to negotiate endlessly.

The finale might be a bit anti-climactic after the round-the-clock frantic discussions of the past weeks, the 25 years of negotiations, and the fact that the Nisga'a originally petitioned the British Privy Council in 1913 for a treaty.

"There will likely be a pronouncement at the table that we've wound down the negotiations," Gosnell said from the Terrace Inn in Terrace,where the negotiators have been meeting for 21 days straight to complete the deal. Then the lead negotiators -- Jack Ebbels for the province, Tom Molloy for Ottawa, and Gosnell for the Nisga'a -- will initial the deal.

The quiet conclusion of the deal belies the fireworks that can be expected as lawyers and negotiators put down their pens, and the ruling federal and provincial politicians begin their battle to get the deal accepted by opposition leaders, and third-party interests such as business and labor groups.

"It's one of the most important agreements in the history of Indian Affairs," federal ministry spokesman Peter Baird said. "For the first time in history we're doing self-government and land claims [issues] in one treaty," he said.

"And it's the front end of a treaty process that stretches out with 51 others," he said referring to the other First Nations who are currently negotiating treaties with the B.C. Treaty Commission.

The deal will be initialed formally by Premier Glen Clark, Federal Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart, provincial Aboriginal Affairs Minister Dale Lovick, and possibly Prime Minister Jean Chretien, if his schedule permits, as early as next week at a formal signing ceremony. That ceremony will launch the treaty onto the political path where the first step is "an extensive public information initiative," Lovick said Monday.

Provincial and federal governments are expected to introduce legislation to adopt the treaty this fall.

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