Oct 30/98: Nisga'a deal gets global attention


National Post
October 30, 1998
Stewart Bell

[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 in northwest British Columbia has become a global curiosity, according to government and tribal officials who say they are being deluged with calls from foreign diplomats, academics, parliamentarians, and journalists. International interest in the treaty - which grants the Nisga'a tribe land and an unprecedented level of autonomy - has been so great that Ottawa is sending the tribal chief who negotiated it on a European speaking tour next month.

Joseph Gosnell, leader of the 6,000-member Nisga'a Tribal Council, will speak in London, Cambridge, Frankfurt, Vienna, Bonn, and The Hague during a Nov. 10-22 tour funded by the federal government, as well as the tribe and industry. One federal official said that while the interest is due in part to a "fascination" with the art and culture of native Indians, other countries also want to learn how Canada has managed to resolve the grievances of its aboriginal people peacefully.

"I think people are intrigued that we deal with these very important kinds of issues with negotiations," said Peter Baird of the Federal Treaty Negotiation Office in Vancouver. "We negotiate and we resolve these things in a peaceful manner and a civilized manner and I think that's a great positive about Canada's approach." The Nisga'a treaty is BC's first modern day land claim settlement and the first in Canada to include broad self-government powers, such as the right to run tribal courts. The tribe also gets $190-million and 2,000 square kilometres of land in the Nass Valley in northwest BC. The tribe votes on the treaty Nov.6 and 7. If it passes, it will then go to the provincial and federal governments to become law. But it has met opposition in BC. Gordon Campbell, leader of the opposition Liberals, has launched a court action to force a province wide referendum on the deal.

The world took notice of the treaty when it was signed in August, generating front-page headlines in The New York Times as well as coverage in the Japanese Asahi Shinbun and the BBC World Service. Editorials were generally favourable. Later Mr. Gosnell spoke to Vancouver's consular corps, and several invited him to visit their countries to explain the treaty. Visiting delegations of senior officials and politicians from countries such as New Zealand, France, and the US have also been to BC in recent months to learn about the treaty. And there have been many speaking invitations.

"I think people are interested in human rights," is how Mr. Gosnell explains the global interest in the treaty. He says he plans to tell his overseas audiences that "Canada is addressing the issue with aboriginal groups, albeit very slowly."


"The purpose of the BC treaty process is to legitimize the theft of our lands."
- Elder Lavina White, Haida Nation

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