Nov 10/98: Nisga'a leader goes to Europe to sell deal


The Vancouver Sun
November 10, 1998
Janet Steffenhagen and Jim Beatty

[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.]

A jubilant Joe Gosnell, president of the Nisga'a Tribal Council, is to leave today on a whirlwind European speaking tour to promote the treaty that now has a solid vote of support from the Nisga'a people.

But first, Gosnell was hoping to meet Prime Minister Jean Chretien this morning to discuss the interim results of a weekend referendum, which suggest almost three-quarters of those who cast ballots are in favour of the treaty.

The results were released on Monday after the ratification office in New Aiyansh had counted enough votes to pass the threshold for approval. The office stated that 1,215 of 2,389 eligible voters had cast ballots in favour of the historic cash-and-land treaty.

Under the terms of the treaty, 50 per cent plus one of eligible voters -- 1,195 people -- had to cast a yes vote for it to be ratified.

There are still 382 uncounted ballots. A group of eight elders are trying to determine if those ballots were cast by eligible voters.

To be eligible to vote, a person must be of Nisga'a ancestry with mothers born into Nisga'a tribes, or natural or legally adopted descendants of the same.

Gosnell said the results were "absolutely great" -- even better than expected -- and Premier Glen Clark declared it a wonderful day for the Nisga'a.

"It's a great vote result," Clark told a news conference. "The turnout and the vote should give people comfort that this has broad support among the Nisga'a and…lays the foundation for a healthy relationship in the future."

Gosnell plans to spend the next 10 days in Bonn, Vienna, The Hague, London and at Cambridge University, speaking about the treaty to academics, government officials and business leaders.

"Hopefully, the message that I will bring internationally is that the cloud of uncertainty that has hung over Nisga'a territory with respect to investors has been removed, from the standpoint of the Nisga'a.

"We welcome investors. Our door is open."

Promoting the treaty in British Columbia and the rest of Canada is a job for the provincial and federal governments, he added.

There are still several hurdles for the landmark treaty, which would give the Nisga'a self-government, 2,000 square kilometres of land and $190 million in cash, among other benefits.

It must be approved by the B.C. and federal governments, and survive court challenges by the provincial Liberals and the Fisheries Survival Coalition. The lawsuits say the treaty, by creating a third level of government, amounts to a constitutional amendment and must therefore be approved by all voters in a referendum.

The B.C. and federal governments vehemently disagree.

Clark said he will decide over the next few days whether to recall the legislature this fall for a vote on the treaty. He noted NDP MLAs will be free to vote as they want, rather than along party lines.

Clark insisted there will be a full debate in the legislature -- lasting a month or two -- before a vote is called, and it won't be called until a new MLA is elected to fill an empty seat in Parksville-Qualicum riding.

In marked contrast to Gosnell and Clark, B.C. Aboriginal Affairs Minister Dale Lovick said the ratification number was not as high as had been predicted when compared to the total number of eligible voters.

"It isn't an overwhelming majority. The reason for that is because it is a difficult decision for Nisga'a. As you know, they have been cross-pressured from people in their own community as well as from others who say 'you gave away too much,' " Lovick said. "I think what they have done is good for British Columbia, Canada as well as for their own people. It's courageous, it's gutsy."

Lovick said a decision on a fall legislative session could be made as early as today when cabinet meets in Victoria.

"My hope will be to be in the legislature by the end of November," Lovick said. "My sense is that I do not think it will be a horribly long session … The [Liberals] don't intend to drag it out forever."

There is speculation the session will resume on about Nov. 25 and last for three weeks before breaking for Christmas holidays.

Sources in Ottawa said Chretien will soon speak publicly on the treaty and will reveal at that time plans to introduce it in the Commons in early February.

B.C. Liberal leader Gordon Campbell said he was not surprised by the ratification numbers but is disappointed all British Columbians will not have a similar vote.

"I would like the 99 per cent of other British Columbians [to be] asked for their opinions on the principles of this deal as well," he said.

Back to SIS