Oct 20/98: Nisga'a's Gosnell threatens "Oka", "Gustafsen"



The Vancouver Sun
October 20, 1998
Janet Steffenhagen

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news articles may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. They are provided for reference only.

As far as S.I.S.I.S. is concerned, the stands at Oka and Gustafsen Lake were NOT about subjugated, surrender agreements like the Nisga'a steal-deal. Furthermore, the BC native "leadership" that now threatens "Oka" or "Gustafsen" in fact collaborated with the colonialist Canadian authorities to defeat the stand for sovereignty at Gustafsen Lake. See: http://kafka.uvic.ca/~vipirg/SISIS/gustmain.html]

Court actions challenging the Nisga'a agreement were decried Monday by native Indian leaders as a dangerous game that could derail the treaty-making process and feed economic uncertainty in B.C.

"It's a backward step," Chief Joe Mathias of the First Nations Summit declared after a suit was launched in B.C. Supreme Court by the provincial Liberal party. A similar action was filed Friday by the Fisheries Survival Coalition. "The motive is to destroy the treaty-making process that we have fought so hard to put in place," added Mathias, whose organization represents B.C. aboriginal groups involved in treaty talks.

If treaty negotiations were to end, he said, aboriginals would have no choice but to press their claims in court, or with roadblocks and confrontations.

Nisga'a Tribal Council president Joe Gosnell went even further, warning a loss of faith in treaty negotiations would force natives to take actions that would go well beyond their clashes with police at Gustafsen Lake and Oka, Que. "When our backs are up against the wall, we're going to stand and fight."

Liberal Leader Gordon Campbell said his party is just trying to find out if the deal is constitutional before it is ratified by the Nisga'a and the provincial and federal governments. If the courts agree with the Liberals, and rule that a constitutional amendment is needed to implement the Nisga'a treaty, the B.C. government would be required under its own laws to seek public approval of the deal through a referendum.

"We want our treaty process to work," Campbell told a news conference after his party filed its statement of claim. "We believe all treaties should be within the Constitution of Canada. If they're not, there is a requirement for federal and provincial governments to change the Constitution of Canada through the front door and not the back door."

The Liberals argue that the treaty, which provides the Nisga'a with $480 million in benefits over 15 years and 1,992 square kilometres of land, violates the Constitution by:

- Creating a new level of government with the power to enact laws that would prevail over federal and provincial laws, and:

- Allowing that government to enact laws without the assent of the governor-general or the lieutenant-governor of a province.

Furthermore, they say, the treaty violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because non-Nisga'a people residing on Nisga'a land would not be allowed to vote in Nisga'a elections.

Campbell said a court challenge of the deal is inevitable, and it is better to clear up questions about constitutionality now rather than after the treaty -- approved in principle Aug. 4 -- is in place. "We sincerely hope that the Nisga'a and all aboriginal people will understand that the clarification and direction we now seek is a constructive and inevitable step along the path to reconciliation," he said.

Premier Glen Clark scoffed at that suggestion. "Make no mistake. This attempt to go to court isn't just to seek legal clarification. It's to try to stop the treaty, and he will try to stop it this way or take it to referendum and try to stop it that way."

Clark said a referendum would amount to a betrayal of the Nisga'a, who agreed to negotiate a treaty rather than press their aboriginal claims in court. "It's a dangerous game that Mr. Campbell is playing," he told a news conference called minutes before the Liberals announced their court action. "It doesn't lead to resolution -- it leads to more confrontation and litigation." But now that challenges are before the courts, Clark said, he will consider whether to refer the matter to the B.C. Court of Appeal or ask Ottawa to send it directly to the Supreme Court of Canada for a definitive ruling.

Clark said he is committed to the B.C. law that requires a referendum before any constitutional change, but said he is also vehemently opposed to a referendum on minority rights. "If the Supreme Court of Canada ultimately ruled that it was a constitutional change, then obviously that would put me in a very difficult position because of my passionate, strong belief that this is an inappropriate place for a referendum," he said.

In Ottawa, federal officials wouldn't rule out a quick reference to the Supreme Court, but said that option is not under active consideration.

The federal and provincial governments, native leaders and several constitutional experts argue that the treaty does not require a constitutional amendment because the constitution already recognizes aboriginal and treaty rights.

Peter Hogg, dean of the Osgoode Hall law school at York University, said in a recent letter to the B.C. government that treaties simply provide clarity and certainty to long-standing aboriginal rights. "The treaties are long, complicated documents reflecting years of negotiations and much compromise on both sides," he stated in a letter released by the premier's office. "It would be very difficult to communicate all the issues in a balanced way in a province-wide referendum campaign." Hogg is one of several legal experts whose views have been publicized by government officials to back their position.

Grand Chief Edward John, also of the First Nations Summit, said the Nisga'a -- like the 46 other bands involved in treaty talks -- bargained in good faith, and a rule change at this stage would be unacceptable.

Campbell said he asked the government last summer to refer the matter to the B.C. Court of Appeal, but was refused.

The native leaders said the treaty process will continue despite the court action. The Nisga'a will vote on the treaty next month and it is expected to go before the B.C. legislature early next year.

Clark said he has not yet determined whether the court action will upset that schedule.

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