Former Nisga'a Nation president Joe Gosnell wants his people to join 'the Canadian business establishment.'

Former Nisga'a Nation president Joe Gosnell wants his people to join 'the Canadian business establishment.'

Nisga’a proving their critics wrong

Joe Gosnell and successors have led the Nass River community to private property rights and now industrial development with LNG

VICTORIA – 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

 

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

Just Posted

Bill Almond’s observatory in its new home on a Saanich lakeside. (Submitted/Cameron Burton)
Colwood stargazing dome makes a move to Saanich

The backyard structure finds a new home after 30 years

Chris Grzywacz, Seed and Stone’s development agent, holds products from the Songhees Cannabis S + S store on April 20. (Jake Romphf/ News Staff)
First cannabis store opens on Songhees Nation, creates economic opportunity says chief

The Songhees Cannabis S + S had a soft launch at its 1502 Admirals Road location on April 20

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

Darrel McLeod won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction in 2018 for his first book, Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age. His newly-released memoir, Peyakow: Reclaiming Cree Dignity, follows as a sequel. (Black Press Media file)
Critically acclaimed Sooke author releases new memoir

Peyakow follows as a sequel to Darrel McLeod’s first book, Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age

RCMP have appealed to the public for help identifying the man. (Black Press Media file image)
Police, dog unit called after man exposed himself at West Shore elementary school

West Shore RCMP credits students, aged 11 and 5, for seeking help

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/YouTube.com screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

The city asking the public if they want to pursue legal action against the province and their decision to override the city on the Victory Church issue. (Jesse Day Western News)
Penticton ready to sue province over homeless shelter

City council voted unanimously to authorize legal action

Most Read