CBC: Much of the opposition to this treaty is coming from the community of Kincolith at the western edge of the Nass Valley region. That is where Mercy Thomas is from. Ms Thomas feels that too much of the Kincolith lands have been given away to satisfy the needs of other Nass valley communities.
Mercy Thomas: The Kincolith entered [land claims] negotiations with 42 reserves. That's a vast amount of land. The Nisga'a Tribal Council (NTC) used the Kincolith reserves as their bargaining chips.
CBC: And what did they leave you with, when all said and done?
Mercy Thomas: What they did...Dale Lovick (BC NDP Minister of Aboriginal Affairs) said "we are dividing the lands to 'equalize' it" - to the Upper Nass (pro-treaty). So, from what I understand, Ayanish increased their lands by 19 reserves which means the Kincolith reserves were decreased in that process. Also, these lands that were increased in the Upper Nass were put in the "Core Lands" [treaty category], which means they can never be touched.
What they did with the remaining lands of the Kincolith was put them into "fee simple" lands. "Fee simple" lands are lands that can be bought and sold. If the Nisga'a Government should have financial problems in the future, then they can sell those lands. Which means they will be chipping away at Kincolith lands.
They really don't have the right to surrender, extinguish, modify or release 93 percent of our ancestral lands. This means the Kincolith Chiefs will no longer have lands or Aboriginal Title. That's what really bothers me - that they have released the Aboriginal Title. Aboriginal Title is to the land.
CBC: What do you say to people who will point out that the Nisga'a have been negotiating this with the federal and provincial governments for many years? And this, over time, is probably the best deal that they could get.
Mercy Thomas: We only received 7 percent of our ancestral lands. The moneys they're going to be receiving are just going to go through their fingers like quick sand. $190 million dollars is nothing compared to 93% of the land and all its resources.
CBC: You're opposed to it obviously. Do you think there are many others in the Nass?
Mercy Thomas: Oh yes! Although the media portrays something else because the BC government has put up $5,000,000 dollars to advertise the "goodness" of this thing. Yet when everything was being negotiated - in secret - the governments and the (NTC) negotiating team are the only ones that understand what is in the Agreement in Principle (AIP) and the treaty.
I feel this is an insult to the people who have fought for land, self-government and self-determination all these years.
CBC: What about the self-government provisions? Won't the Nisga'a have the kind of control over their affairs that they have wanted for so many generations?
Mercy Thomas: I've always been an advocate of self-determination and to be away from the Department of Indian Affairs, who have suppressed us all these years. But giving away 93 percent of our lands is not the answer.
I think it will really affect the Kincolith People. Because we seem to be far removed from these negotiations - they used the Upper Nass to outvote the Kincolith People. So we won't really have any say in this as far as I'm concerned. The census list says that we are 6,000 strong Nisga'a. The rule of thumb is that about 50 percent of that are children. So we should have 3,000 voters.
But right now Victoria [records] there are 1,750 who are registered. A lot of these people think that if they don't vote it will be considered a "NO" vote. This was part of what they were told.
CBC: And that's not the case is it?
Mercy Thomas: No. You have to register first. And then if you don't vote its considered as no vote. But people are hearing different because they've not been properly informed. One of the things that bothers me is on October 10, 1998 a letter was sent to Nisga'a Tribal Council Chairman Joe Gosnell telling him that there were 24 changes to the Final Agreement. I haven't received any notice of any changes to the Final Agreement.
We're going to the polls today and tomorrow. This must be some kind of illegal [deal] or something? This is not due process and is completely unacceptable.