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

Potential for Greater Victoria sewage project to go over budget

“Our confidence [in meeting budget] is not high”

City of Victoria endorses potential class action lawsuit against fossil fuel giants

Data will be gathered to quantify how much environmental damage the city has faced

Residents push back on downtown Victoria tree removal

The birch tree at the Wharf-Government intersection will be removed to make way for bike lanes

Braves host 2019 Prospects Game, Sunday at Pearkes

- This story was updated to correct the date of the Prospects… Continue reading

Toronto Arrows players take aim at youth rugby clinic

Juan de Fuca team offers get acquainted clinics

UPDATE: B.C. legislature managers accused of excessive travel, personal expense claims

Clerk Craig James, security chief Gary Lenz call allegations ‘completely false’

B.C. man fined $10,000 after leaving moose to suffer before death

Surrey man was convicted last week on three Wildlife Act charges

Anti-pipeline group wants NEB to consider impact of emissions, climate change

Stand.earth filed NEB motion asking to apply same standard to the project as it did with Energy East pipeline

B.C. man charged in 2014 snake venom death of toddler

Henry Thomas was taking care of the North Vancouver girl the day before she died

B.C.’s largest public-sector union wants inquiry into money laundering, drugs

Union officials say Premier John Horgan and Attorney General David Eby have not ruled out the possibility of a public inquiry

Teen in confrontation with Native American: I didn’t provoke

Nick Sandmann of Covington Catholic High School said he was trying to defuse the situation

Suspect allegedly armed with handgun robs Island gas station

Incident occurred Sunday night in Nanaimo

MARS seeing influx of sick, injured eagles from north part of Vancouver Island

Factors for increase in eagle cases can be anything from lead poisoning to vehicle strikes

Kamala Harris opens U.S. presidential bid in challenge to Trump

The 54-year old portrayed herself as a fighter for justice, decency and equality in a video distributed by her campaign

Most Read