Jul 21/98: Second band tries to stop Nisga'a deal


Globe and Mail
July 21, 1998, p. A3
Robert Matas

[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 native band that would lose most of its ancestral lands as well as profitable timber and mineral resources under the historic Nisga'a treaty is going to try to stop the deal. Negotiating on behalf of four bands the Nisga'a Tribal Council last week accepted a settlement that included title to only one-10th of Nisga'a traditional territory and payments of about $300-million. The treaty is to be signed by the Nisga'a and federal and provincial negotiators in two weeks, and then will require ratification by band members, Ottawa and the province.

However, the BC Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a petition from three Kilcolith Band members next week requesting that ratification be prohibited. This is the second court challenge to the treaty, which is the first such agreement in British Columbia in almost 140 years. Earlier this month, the Gitanyow Band, which claims some of the same land as the Nisga'a, also began a court action to derail the settlement. Federal treaty negotiator Tom Molloy said yesterday he would not comment on the Kilcolith lawsuit because it is going to court.

However, he was not surprised that the treaty would be opposed by some band members. "No society does anything of significance with 100-per-cent support of the people," he said in an interview. "I do not expect 100 per cent of Canada or British Columbia will support the treaty," he added, "but the majority certainly will." To be ratified, the treaty must be accepted by a majority of the Nisga'a who are eligible to vote. The Kincolith Band accounts for 1,768 of the 5,098 Nisga'a people, according to a survey completed in November, 1997. About three-quarters of the members of the Kilcolith Band live outside of traditional lands.

Frank Barton, a member of the band involved in the lawsuit, said yesterday the tribal council did not have a mandate to negotiate away the Kilcolith lands. And Ottawa was negotiating in bad faith, because the federal negotiators ignored his band's concerns, he added. The Tribal Council has "taken away all our rights." he said in an interview, adding that he felt he was just about the only person in the country who could speak up against the treaty. "If you [non-natives] do it, they call you a racist," he said. Mr Burton is a 60 year old fisherman who lives in the Vancouver suburb of White Rock. He returns to his band's territory every year to fish and plans to move back to Kilcolith land soon, he said.

In opposing the treaty, he expects to get support from almost all the Kilcolith who live outside the territory as well as most of those who live on ancestral lands. The boundaries of the Kilcolith lands were surveyed more than 100 years ago and set out in detail in a 1913 petition, he added. The Tribal Council was not authorized to settle any changes in those boundaries, he said. A band resolution in 1995 specifically directed the Tribal Council to honour the Kilcolith's historic position and include all their lands in setting the boundaries, Mr. Burton said. The court case also will deal with the validity of voting procedures.

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