Another View: Nisga’s prove their critics wrong

Tom Fletcher is a legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press

B.C. Views

 

It has been 15 years since I wrote a commentary objecting to the B.C. government pushing aside its own hard-won treaty process to reach an unprecedented land-and-cash settlement with the Nisga’a Nation for their ancient Nass River territory.

My objection, and that of many others, was the imposition of a parallel state with collectively owned land enshrined for all time. This was an ailing NDP government rushing to enable a property ownership system that has demonstrated little but failure and suffering around the world.

The Nisga’a are proving me wrong, and this was again demonstrated at a little-noticed ceremony at the B.C. legislature last week.

The B.C. government had just passed amendments to allow a gas pipeline through Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park, the first co-managed provincial park in B.C. history. Another bill enabled the Nisga’a Lisims government to impose industrial property tax on liquefied natural gas production. Legal documents were signed so the Nisga’a legislature can do the same this week.

In recent years, the Nisga’a disposed of concern about collective land restrictions by adopting a private property system. And Supreme Court of Canada decisions have repeatedly answered protests about the establishment of a parallel state – that’s what it is, so get used to it.

The Nisga’a have moved to assemble four fee-simple tidewater sites for LNG terminals, joining the Haisla Nation at Kitimat in reaching aggressively for a modern economy through gas export. The Nisga’a have partnered with TransCanada Corp. on a 900-km pipeline to supply the $11-billion LNG project led by Petronas for the Prince Rupert port. And they don’t intend to stop there.

“We want to be part of the Canadian business establishment,” said former Nisga’a Nation president Joe Gosnell.

The signing ceremony was briefly disrupted by one of a small group of Vancouver-based Nisga’a who have been using modern protest tactics against this decision. We weren’t consulted, it’s a desecration of victims of a volcanic eruption, it’s a threat to eelgrass beds, and so forth, say well-rehearsed young men with video cameras running.

Nisga’a President Mitchell Stevens has patiently and repeatedly explained that Nisga’a legislature rules were relaxed to allow every hereditary chief to speak to elected leaders on this pivotal move. After that it received the required two-thirds majority support.

Gosnell, the revered chief negotiator who carried the treaty over the goal line in 2000, moved slowly with the help of an ornately carved cane to speak at a reception. He seemed genuinely surprised that he has lived long enough to see the fruits of generations of labour.

Gosnell recounted the 1887 paddling trip down the B.C. coast from the Nass Valley to Victoria to present the Nisga’a territorial claim, where the tribal leaders were turned away on the steps of the legislature by Premier William Smithe. It would take until 1910 for Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier to promise a settlement, and until 1949 for Nisga’a Chief Frank Calder to be elected to the B.C. legislature.

In 2000, when the treaty received royal assent in Ottawa, Gosnell took part in a ceremonial burning of the Indian Act and got to work on implementing self-government.

And on Nov. 27, 2014, B.C. Liberal, NDP and independent MLAs voted unanimously to open the way to an industrial future for the Nisga’a.

“That’s what being alive means to me today,” Gosnell said. “You’ve got to have big dreams. Maybe all those dreams won’t come true, but at least you have the ability to dream big. And boy, are we ever dreaming big.”

 

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sean Hart, 34, unexpectedly left the Seven Oaks Tertiary Mental Health Facility in Saanich on Nov. 6, 2020 and has now been missing for six months. (Photo courtesy Penny Hart)
Search continues for Saanich man Sean Hart six months after his disappearance

Support from community, police keeps his mother hopeful

Police stopped, then let go this man and his large collection of cans during a stop Monday morning on Resthaven Drive. Police had received a report of a possible theft, but let him go after he had returned the property, which he believed was his to take after being left out in public. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Report of theft, balancing act on Sidney street draws curious onlookers

Incident happened just before 8:30 a.m. opposite of Vancouver Island Regional Library branch

Oak Bay resident Hugh Thompson died Friday, May 7. (GoFundMe photo)
Oak Bay dad dies mountain biking near Shawnigan Lake

Community rallies around family with online fundraiser

Daniel Foster, last seen in downtown Parksville on Saturday, May 1. (submitted photo)
RCMP seek help locating missing Victoria man, last spotted in Parksville

Daniel Foster, 43, seen via surveillance camera using an ATM

Victoria Police Department looks to identify a person of interest after a Friday night stabbing. (VicPD handout)
Police seek person of interest after Victoria stabbing

Friday night assault leaves one with potentially life-altering injuries

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, hosts an update on efforts to contain B.C.’s COVID-19 transmission in Surrey and the Fraser Valley and protect hospitals in the Lower Mainland, May 6, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate slowing, 20 more people die

Deaths include two people in their 40s, two in their 50s

Most Read