Jul 17/98: Native bands critical of Nisga'a deal


Vancouver Sun
July 17, 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.]

Some native bands, resource industries and members of the province's treaty council are critical of B.C.'s first modern-day treaty, while native leaders and the government are hailing it as a template for future deals.

"People in our community are quite sad that we didn't have our issues addressed before the handshake," Glen Williams, chief negotiator for the Gitanyow Indian band, said Thursday.

The 2,000-member Gitanyow claim the landmark treaty signed in Terrace Wednesday by the Nisga'a, Ottawa and B.C. gives away 84 per cent of their traditional territory, which overlaps with Nisga'a land. The Gitanyow tried unsuccessfully this week to have the land dispute settled in court before a treaty deal was reached Williams, who vowed to fight for the land in court, said the deal made him wonder whether his band will keep pursuing a treaty. "This could substantially nullify our treaty process."

Sechelt Chief Garry Feschuk, who has already walked away from the treaty process and represents one of a half dozen bands going to court to assert aboriginal land rights, said the Nisga'a deal should not set a precedence for other treaty negotiations because each band has different priorities. "[Our outstanding issues] were not addressed in the Nisga'a deal....If that's what they negotiated for their people, then I wish them well," he said.

The deal reached Wednesday was a culmination of 25 years of off-again, on-again negotiations. It gives the Nisga'a 1,930 square kilometres of land in the Lower Nass Valley and $190 million cash from the provincial and federal governments. The deal also includes $40 million from B.C. to pave a highway into the Nass Valley, and $30 million from Ottawa that will go towards training natives how to manage forests and fisheries, repairing infrastructure such as sewers and water, and new Nisga'a government offices.

Peter Lusztig, acting chief commissioner for the B.C. Treaty Commission, believes the Nisga'a deal will speed the process for the other 51 First Nations still negotiating with the government. Thirty-six have reached agreements-in-principle, and Lusztig hopes all treaties can be concluded in less than three years.

Squamish Nation Chief Joe Mathias, who is also on the executive of the First Nation Summit, applauded the deal. "It will be a beacon to light up the way for more modern-day treaties in the not-too-distant future," Mathias said.

The deal is to be formerly signed Aug. 4 and the Nisga'a are expected to vote by October on whether they will accept the deal. Premier Glen Clark said it could be voted on in the legislature this fall or by spring 1999. Then it must be approved by the federal government, which could happen as early as January 1999.

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