[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.]
VICTORIA -- A copy of the final Nisga'a deal leaked Tuesday by the Opposition Liberals shows the Nisga'a Tribal Council has agreed to give up all future claims in exchange for its historic treaty.
In the deal, the Nisga'a concede the treaty will be a "full and final settlement" and agree to "release" Canada and B.C. from any future claims. The settlement signals to the four dozen other bands now involved in treaty talks that they should expect the same treatment in their treaties -- which will please resource companies but may not sit well with some chiefs.
Resource companies have lobbied for treaties that close the door to future claims, saying that is the only way to end the uncertainty over B.C. land ownership, which has hurt the province's economy. But tribal leaders have resisted demands to "cede, cease and surrender" their future claims in exchange for treaties. Those words don't occur in the treaty. Instead it says: "This agreement constitutes the full and final settlement in respect to the aboriginal rights, including aboriginal title, in Canada, of the Nisga'a Nation."
The final draft also states that the treaty will be protected under the Constitution and any amendments must be agreed to by the three parties: the Nisga'a, Ottawa and Victoria. The treaty provides "the right to self-government and the authority to make laws," with elections to be held at least every five years at both the nation and village level. As well, the treaty sets out a Nisga'a justice system including the right to appoint judges, to create a police force and a corrections system that will be guided by but not limited to the Criminal Code of Canada. On taxation powers, the Nisga'a people will have their tax- exempt status phased out over 12 years.
Premier Glen Clark's office admitted Tuesday the cost for the historic deal involving cash, 2,000 square kilometres of land in northwest B.C. and self-government powers, has jumped to $459 million. That figure does not include compensation to be negotiated with resource companies that lose out as a result of the deal. Earlier estimates had put the price tag for the deal at $445 million. Clark's aides said the latest tally includes $106 million worth of land, $41 million for a highway and the balance for a cash settlement, forgone revenue and other costs.
But the premier defended the treaty, calling the Nisga'a settlement "the most critical issue facing the province" and warning its failure could have dire consequences for the province's floundering economy. "I think it would plunge the province into uncertainty, and uncertainty is very bad for investment," he said. "This would clearly be a blow to both our economy and to any notion of reconciliation" with aboriginal people.
The final draft of the treaty also sets out a schedule for logging on the lands that will fall under Nisga'a ownership. It permits the annual harvesting of 165,000 cubic metres for the first five years followed by 135,000 cubic metres the next four years.
Federal, provincial and tribal negotiators were to outline details of the treaty at a news conference in Vancouver this afternoon.
Clark denounced the Liberals for releasing the treaty documents. "I guess the only explanation is they are trying to do everything they can to discredit the treaty and I think it's unfortunate because there's lots in there for a good debate and we'll have that and playing these kinds of silly games."
Nisga'a president Chief Joseph Gosnell called the release of the treaty by Liberal leader Gordon Campbell "unfortunate, ill-timed and reprehensible. The political grandstanding is an insult to the Nisga'a nation. I ask the leader of the Opposition, is this his way of contributing to the building of a new relationship?"
Campbell said he felt compelled to release the documents as quickly as he could because the public shouldn't be denied the details of the final agreement for even a couple of weeks longer. "They have a right to know, this is a major initiative and I don't think it's something that should be managed in terms of public relations."
Provincial negotiator Jack Ebbels said the fact that the government has not yet released the treaty document does not mean there will be any changes of substance to the deal that was agreed to on July 15. The three parties at the table agreed to wait until next month so the text could be prepared for a massive print run -- as many as 50,000 copies. "This is purely an editorial exercise going on," he said.
Clark said the Nisga'a leadership also face a tough sell among their membership, who are being asked to become the first aboriginal group in the country to opt out of federal taxation exemptions. And he said public opposition won't change this deal, but it will have "a profound impact" on what happens with the four dozen other treaties currently being negotiated. Rejection of the Nisga'a deal will put those other talks in jeopardy, he said. "It will mean that the people have rejected the first modern treaty, one which is clearly lower than the expectations of some aboriginal groups, and I think aboriginal people will see it as a message to pursue either confrontation and/or court action rather than treaty negotiations. And clearly the governments would have to reconsider the treaty issues if this fails."
The Nisga'a treaty is still being finalized in anticipation of an Aug. 4 signing ceremony in the remote Nass Valley.
- The treaty provides "the right to self-government and the authority to make laws," with elections to be held at least every five years at both the nation and village level.
The Nisga'a government can make laws establishing public institutions, determining citizenship, controlling the use and management of Nisga'a lands, and administering services such as human resources, public works, traffic and transportation, social services, health services and education.
Nisga'a laws can be challenged in B.C. Supreme Court only after all internal procedures for appeal or review provided by Nisga'a government have been exhausted.
- On maintaining Nisga'a law, the treaty sets out a Nisga'a justice system including the right to appoint judges, to create a police force and a corrections system that will be guided by but not limited to the Criminal Code of Canada.
"The Nisga'a Court may impose penalties and other remedies under the laws of Nisga'a government, British Columbia or Canada in accordance with generally accepted principles of sentencing."
It does allow for an accused to opt out of the Nisga'a justice system and be tried under provincial law when faced with a potential sentence of imprisonment under Nisga'a law.
And the Nisga'a court cannot impose a sentence on a person who is not a Nisga'a citizen "different in nature from those generally imposed by provincial or superior courts in Canada, without the person's consent."
- On fiscal relations between the three orders of government, the treaty requires further negotiation to determine the federal and provincial governments' ongoing contributions to the Nisga'a government.
- On taxation powers, the Nisga'a people will have their tax- exempt status phased out over 12 years.
The Nisga'a government "may make laws in respect of direct taxation of Nisga'a citizens on Nisga'a lands in order to [ raise] . . . revenue for Nisga'a Nation or Nisga'a Village purposes."
The extent of taxation authority over non-Nisga'a people can be negotiated with the federal and provincial governments.
- On certainty, the governments of B.C. and Canada have backed away from the controversial "cede, release and surrender" phrase that was supposed to extinguish any further claims. Here's the new wording:
"This agreement constitutes the full and final settlement in respect of the aboriginal rights, including aboriginal title, in Canada, of the Nisga'a Nation...
"The Nisga'a Nation releases Canada, British Columbia and all other persons from all claims, demands, actions or proceedings, of whatever kind, and whether known or unknown, that the Nisga'a Nation ever had, now has or may have in the future, relating to or arising from any act, or omission, before the effective date that may have affected or infringed any aboriginal rights, including aboriginal title, in Canada of the Nisga'a nation."