Jun 29/98: BC to sell Nisga'a deal on "collective guilt"


British Columbia Report
June 29, 1998
Terry O'Neill

[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.]

Call it the guilt card. As negotiators from Ottawa, Victoria and the Nisga'a "First Nation" were working on the final details of their precedent-setting land-claim deal last week, Premier Glen Clark was giving us a peek at how the provincial government will attempt to sell the treaty to a public that, while supportive of the need to reach a deal, is also wary (and rightly so) of its implications, financial and otherwise. What Mr. Clark and the NDP government will bank on is the public's remorse over generations of "wrongs" done to the province's indigenous people. Wrongs that supposedly began with the takeover of the Indians' land; wrongs that continued with the imposition of discriminatory policies affecting most aspects of their lives; and wrongs that allegedly reached their climax with the installation of the residential school system.

We have sinned, we have sinned, we have most grievously sinned, the premier suggests. And now we have to pay for it, pay for it, and really pay for it - into the tens of billions of dollars worth and beyond. That, anyway, appears to be the strategy. But whether it will work is another question. News media reaction is one factor; political response is another. And so far, it appears the NDP have the media on their side, but not the Reform Party of Canada and the BC Liberals. Not yet, anyway. Premier Clark clearly laid this "guilt card" on the table June 15 after a meeting he had with some BC religious leaders to discuss the "moral aspects" of the looming Nisga'a deal. "I think it's a question of justice and ethics and morality," the premier said in an interview with the Globe and Mail, "and I think there is an important role for spiritual leaders to play in that debate."

Roman Catholic Archbishop Adam Exner responded appropriately, saying, "People really are not well-enough informed about [the treaty] and there are moral aspects of these issues we should talk about." Added Anglican Archbishop David Crawley: "Understanding overcomes prejudice." The latter statement is crucial, for if the public feels it is guilty of anything, it is of collective prejudice against native Indians. And, as Premier Clark would have it, the only way this prejudice can be cleansed is through treaties, regardless of how expensive, disruptive and unfair they might be. But consider these facts: the first draft of the treaty (or agreement in principle, as it is called) suggests that entrenchment, not elimination, of racially discriminatory practices will be a vital part of the deal. Native Indians will be given special fishing, land and governance rights, purely on the basis of their ethnic heritage. Non-Indians who might live within the new Nisga'a homeland will, in virtually all respects, be second-class citizens. In other words, what we are being sold is a new order of discrimination in the name of cleansing past prejudice. How Orwellian.

Mr. Clark and other treaty apologists suggest this is a hard-hearted way of seeing things; what is needed, they counter, is more "genuine dialogue." But how "genuine" can our dialogue with the native Indians be when, every time a Reform Party MP or some other clear headed British Columbian suggests that the treaty include the concept of extinguishment (which means that, once the deal is signed, the Indians cannot demand to go back to the bargaining table for more goodies), Indian leaders and their non-native supporters raise the spectre of roadblocks and Oka-like insurrection?

Truly "genuine" dialogue would preclude such blackmail - or, on the other hand, would include the threatened use, by government negotiators, of commensurate force. What is incredible is that anyone continues to believe that "genuine" dialogue can ever exist when on one side, the Indian is allowed to threaten violence with impunity, while proponents of conservative negotiation policies are branded as racists and bigots for daring to suggest that Parliament legislate parameters to the treaties. What is appalling is that so many media commentators embrace this hypocrisy. What remains to be seen, however, is whether federal Reformers and provincial Liberals will have the courage to stick up for the people who elected them, rather than cower before the god of the guilt complex.

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