Nov 26/98: BC Labour Federation endorses Nisga'a deal


The Vancouver Sun
November 26, 1998
Craig McInnes

[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.]

The B.C. Federation of Labour unanimously endorsed the Nisga'a treaty Wednesday and condemned opponents who have gone to court to try to derail the historic agreement.

Delegates to the annual convention took the vote after Premier Glen Clark used his speech to urge them to liken the fight for rights by native people to that of women, the political left, the labour movement and other minority groups.

"It is the same struggle. It is the struggle for justice, it is the struggle against inequality, it is the struggle to make sure that people can live in dignity and harmony....It's the same fight that we fight every day."

Clark told the delegates his government is under siege from the media and business interests that want to strip organized labour of the gains they have made under the New Democratic Party government.

"There's a campaign on in this province against this government, sometimes its subtle, sometimes it's not so subtle," he said.

Clark and other New Democrats have often complained in the past of unfair treatment from the mass media, which he argues is controlled by a handful of people who are promoting a pro-business, anti-labour agenda.

After his speech, he told reporters he believes the campaign against him has intensified.

"It's a much more strident kind of campaign by the media than certainly I've ever seen before," he said.

The delegates also heard a plea for their support from Nisga'a Chief Joseph Gosnell, who has just returned from Europe where he was promoting the agreement.

"Under the treaty we will no longer be regarded as wards of the state, beggars in our own land," he said.

Gosnell said he will be in Victoria on Monday for the start of the debate in the legislature, which, along with the federal Parliament, has to ratify the treaty before it can become law.

He accused Opposition leader Gordon Campbell and his B.C. Liberals of joining the long line of politicians going back more than a century who have consistently denied the Nisga'a access to their legitimate rights.

"These naysayers remind me of the premier who refused our people entrance into the parliament buildings in 1887," he said, referring to a fruitless journey Nisga'a took to Victoria in that year.

Ken Georgetti, president of the labour federation, led the debate on the motion supporting the treaty, praising Gosnell for his perseverance and patience in trying to right the wrongs that have done to him and his people.

"We can't change what those before us did but we certainly can accept responsibility for it."

"The issue is: 'Did we mistreat the original owners of this land?' and the answer is 'Yes.'"

The B.C. Liberals have gone to court to settle the question of whether the Nisga'a treaty qualifies as an amendment to the Constitution.

That would force the B.C. government to hold a referendum, something Clark has refused to do on the basis that it would be tantamount to holding a referendum on minority rights.

Georgetti said later that in addition to the moral arguments, organized labour has been listening to businesses complain about how uncertainty created by land claims in B.C. is hurting investment.

"I am a believer that the certainty that these treaties will create will help the economy of the province, not hurt it."

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