Jul 26/98: Nisga'a council president dismisses referendum


Victoria Times-Colonist
July 26, 1998, p. A2
Cindy Harnett

[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.]

BC Liberal Leader Gordon Campbell's latest attempt to force a province-wide referendum on the proposed Nisga'a treaty doesn't surprise Joe Gosnell. But it does confuse him. The Nisga'a Tribal Council president said Saturday a province wide vote on a treaty with federal implications doesn't make any sense. "I have not heard him asking for a referendum of all Canadians. I hear him asking for a referendum of British Columbians," said Gosnell. "The vast majority of Canadians, I have to remind Mr. Campbell, will pay and assist in the settlement of claims in British Columbia. Is he going to deny the vast majority of Canadians to participate in his so-called call for a referendum?" asked Gosnell.

The treaty gives the Nisga'a about 2,000 square kilometres of land outright, [fee simple title - S.I.S.I.S.] plus about $311 million, including $190 million in cash. The agreement, more than two decades in the making, also hands over a percentage of the North Coast salmon fishery, along with timber and mineral rights. Campbell believes the deal, arrived at two weeks ago by the federal and BC governments with the Nisga'a First Nation, amends the Constitution. For that reason, British Columbia's Constitution Amendment Approval Act of 1991 requires Premier Glen Clark to hold a referendum, Campbell said.

But Gosnell dismisses Campbell's threats to pursue legal action to force a referendum. "I am confident we were reminded by federal and provincial negotiating teams that this treaty must not override the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms." The federal Reform party's Indian affairs critic said Reform would join the BC Liberal party in demanding the NDP government hold a referendum. Under the proposed treaty, "we are creating a whole new third order of government, we are creating new rights, we are entrenching inequality based on race," Campbell said.

Clark continues to reject a referendum, comparing the signing of the treaty with the emancipation of blacks in the United States. "They didn't have a referendum on civil rights in the southern United States, they didn't have a referendum in Canada when they finally gave aboriginal people the vote in 1961," Clark said this week.

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