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

 

Just Posted

How many volunteers does it take to run a hockey team?

Meet the momma bears who make the Revelstoke Grizzlies’ games happen

Niedermayer jersey retirement ceremony a dream come true

Penticton minor hockey players bring home memories of a lifetime from Niedermayer jersey retirement

B.C. Interior free from measles

Vancouver measles outbreak hasn’t spread to the B.C. Interior

UPDATE: Tractor trailer overturned on Highway 3A near Yellow Lake

Drivers may be wise to plan an alternate route as crews will need to recover the truck

Highway one will be closed tomorrow for avalanche control near Golden

The closure is expected to last for two hours

Branching out: learning to ski at Revelstoke Mountain Resort

It’s the first time at the hill for the editor of Revelstoke Review

Ontario man accused of killing 11-year-old daughter dies in hospital, police say

Roopesh Rajkumar had been hospitalized with what police described as a self-inflicted gunshot wound

Larch Hills junior skiers top Teck BC Midget Championships

Multiple top-five finishes contribute to aggregate team trophy

Manitoba ‘pauses’ link with ex-B.C. premier Gordon Campbell after allegations

Campbell had been hired to review two major hydro projects

Heritage minute features Japanese-Canadian baseball team, internment

The Vancouver Asahi baseball team won various championships across the Pacific Northwest

UPDATE: Woman, off-duty cop in critical condition after stabbing outside B.C. elementary school

The officer was interceding in an alleged assault when he and the woman were stabbed

Pool plans disappoint Shuswap swim clubs

Salmon Arm mayor assures options for city rec centre only preliminary

Vehicle fire on Coquihalla near Kamloops

A large plume of smoke could be seen rising into the sky over Highway 5

$10-a-day child care not in 2019 budget, but advocate not irked

Sharon Gregson with the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C. says NDP on track to deliver promise

Most Read