Jun 16/98: Nisga'a deal to wrap up within weeks


Globe and Mail
June 16, 1998, p. A6
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.]

Vancouver - BC Premier Glen Clark says he expects federal, provincial and Nisga'a negotiators to complete their work on a treaty within weeks, clearing the way for a debate this summer that the Premier believes could be hostile and divisive.

With only a few items left on the table, the Nisga'a negotiating team headed for Ottawa yesterday for private talks with federal officials. A federal Indian Affairs official said in Vancouver yesterday the negotiators are "well positioned" to close the deal within the next few weeks. An agreement with the Nisga'a first nation will be British Columbia's first treaty with an Indian group since it entered confederation.

Mr. Clark has expressed worry that the deal could spark turbulent disagreement between those who oppose the settlement and those who support it. He appealed yesterday to several religious leaders to speak to people about the history of treaty negotiations and related moral issues. Federal and provincial governments and leaders of the Nisga'a have been involved in talks about the legal language of a settlement since March, 1996, when they reached an agreement in principle that would give the Nisga'a a 1, 930 kilometre tract of land, $190-million and a measure of self-government. Once the negotiators finish their work, the treaty must be ratified by Parliament, the provincial government and the Nisga'a. At a meeting three weeks ago, more than 90 per cent of the Nisga'a people expressed support for the agreement.

Mr. Clark said in an interview that he does not expect religious leaders to preach in support of the contentious deal. But said he hopes they will engage their audiences in "respect for genuine dialogue" and discussion about the ethical issues relating to Indian land claims. Mr. Clark added that he is determined "to make a difference on this issue" and expects negotiations will be completed "real soon". "I think it's a question of justice and ethics and morality," he said, "and I think there is an important role for spiritual leaders to play in that debate." Roman Catholic Archbishop Adam Exner, of the Vancouver Archdiocese, said after the meeting that religious leaders should be involved in the ethical and moral aspects of the issue but avoid the politics.

"People really are not well-enough informed about it and there are moral aspects of these issues we should talk about," said the archbishop. Anglican Archbishop David Crawley said religious leaders should be involved in the educational process. "Understanding overcomes prejudice," he added. However, Liberal aboriginal affairs critic Mike de Jong said Mr. Clark was pursuing a propaganda campaign in his talks with religious leaders.

S.I.S.I.S. is pleased to note the BC NDP Premier's concern with this "question of justice, ethics and morality." Thousands of people worldwide share these concerns with reference to his government's involvement in the Gustafsen Lake affair. Will Premier Clark now call for the inquiry they are demanding?

BC Premier Glen Clark: premier@gov.bc.ca

Letters to the Globe and Mail: letters@GlobeAndMail.ca

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