Oct 9/98: BC Premier voices Nisga'a doubts


The Province
October 9, 1998
Don Hauka

[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 Nisga'a treaty may not pass a free vote in the legislature, Premier Glen Clark told native leaders yesterday as he tried to drum up support for the deal.

"The question of treaty-making, in my judgment, is on trial in B.C.," he told delegates to the First Nations Summit meeting on the Musqueam reserve in Vancouver. He said there is an organized campaign to scuttle the Nisga'a treaty and all treaty-making in B.C. "If we can't do a treaty with the Nisga'a people, then we can't do a treaty with anybody."

Clark lambasted editorial writers and talk-show hosts who he says are putting on so much pressure, he's not sure the treaty will pass a free vote in the legislature, where the New Democrats have a slim majority. "I don't know if it will pass," he said. "The opposition is very loud."

He later told reporters he thought the treaty would pass.

Clark called on natives to be more vocal in defending the treaty-making process. "You must not be quiet in the face of racism or attacks on the treaty from any quarter," he said. "If we cannot solve this one, then I don't know why you're here and I don't know why I'm here."

In return, Clark pledged to help speed up the treaty process by settling the question of how much land and resources the provincial and federal governments are willing to give. Details like self-government can be dealt with later, he said.

Clark, who upset native leaders recently when he said the Nisga'a deal would be a template for other treaties, yesterday said it won't be used as a template.

That's exactly what native leaders like Chief Joe Mathias of the Squamish band wanted to hear. "The hounds of dissent and the hounds of war are barking at our heels," said Mathias. "We are in a struggle. We will close ranks with you, Mr. Premier." Mathias said natives would "destroy the hounds of dissent" if need be, but "we are not a threat to white man's society."

Grand Chief Ed John said "there's not one ounce of dispute in this room" on Clark's position. "Believe me, we will stand by that and we will stand up against anyone and everyone out there who says the Indians should not receive one square inch of land in this province." John was especially pleased to hear the Nisga'a deal would not be used as a model for other treaties. "It does not mean to us every comma, every word, every sentence, every paragraph, every chapter is something we agree with. We don't want a template."

Liberal aboriginal-affairs critic Mike de Jong said the premier's claim that opposing the Nisga'a deal means opposing all treaty-making is "absurd." "It's absolute nonsense and b.s.," said de Jong. "It's the kind of deception we've seen from the premier on any number of issues."


Even if natives and government agreed overnight to speed up the treaty process, it would take years to cut preliminary deals. Provincial aboriginal affairs officials say Premier Glen Clark's pledge to jump-start talks will help, but isn't a quick fix. "I think it would be fair to say we're dealing in years rather than decades," said Peter Smith of aboriginal affairs.

Clark wants Ottawa to expedite treaty talks by putting such issues as self-government aside and focusing on land and resources.

But native leaders such as Chief Ed John, head of the First Nations Summit, say the province and federal government have to beef up their negotiating teams. The senior levels of government have just five negotiating teams for 50 different sets of treaty talks.

Federal spokesman John Watson says talks have been delayed by concerns expressed by the natives. Watson said criticism that Ottawa is not putting enough money on the table is unfair. "We're already paying for 80 per cent of the bill," he said.

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