Return to Menu
This letter is in reply to "Point Counter Point" (article in the Winter edition) by Chief Joe Gosnell and Saul Terry.
The contrast between the articles of these two leaders leaps from the pages of your magazine. Mr. Gosnell is attempting reconciliation and practical solutions for today's world. Mr. Terry is reinforcing hard line impractical positions for yesterday's mistakes.
As a British Columbian and a Canadian, I feel strongly that it is time to settle the Land Claims gratefully acknowledges the financial support provided by the Department of Canadian Heritage. question. I have not come to this conclusion either recently or lightly: for the better part of 25 years I've been involved in the process.
In 1973 the Supreme Court ruled that "Canadian Indians have an aboriginal land claim." Soon after, I introduced the Yukon Native Brotherhood's land claim., "Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow", into the Yukon Legislature, and participated in the Yukon Government's negotiating position with Yukon First Nations.
In my Maiden Speech as an MLA in the BC Legislature I congratulated Jack Weisgerber for changing BC's 120 year old position on aboriginal rights when he initiated the provincial treaty process. In 1995 I attended the signing of the Agreement in Principle on Nisga'a lands north again for the final, historic, Signing Ceremony this past summer. And so it's from this 25 year association that I share my perspective.
First, let's look at Nisga'a history, if ever so briefly. In the late 1880's, when the first Europeans stumbled through the forests into Nisga'a lands, they were greeted as friends. Later, when the Europeans attempted to survey and subdivide those lands, the Nisga'a objected. Europeans continued to break up Nisga'a territories yet they hadn't defeated the Nisga'a in battle, they hadn't bought, bartered or even asked to trade the land: they simply took it.
Interestingly, most claims that have come before the courts since 1973 have ruled against governments and in favour of First Nations. The Courts have, in fact, repeatedly told both sides to attempt negotiation and treaty before addressing the Courts. After all, a negotiated settlement is always superior to an imposed one.
Is it "right" that British Columbia is the only place in Canada that hasn't settled obligations to First Nations? Granted, British Columbians alone did not author the Indian Act, but as Canadians we are respon-sible for its results. From a social standpoint, that Act has proven to be a dismal failure (e.g. although only three percent of the population, natives make up 17 percent of our prison population; they have the highest rate of deaths at birth and the lowest life expectancy, and on some reserves unemployment is as high as 80 percent).
In my view, the Nisga'a Treaty is advantageous to both sides - socially and economically: 1) No private lands have been touched. 2) In 12 years the Nisga'a will give up their tax-exempt status granted under the Indian Act and will pay both provincial and federal taxes. 3) Although they will have a form of self government, their authority will be limited by the powers of both the federal Criminal Code and the Charter of Rights. 4) Uncertainty of land ownership will be resolved (i.e. forestry, mining and other industries will know for certain with whom they should deal. 5) The Treaty invests in First Nations communities, who in turn will use resources and expertise from surrounding - non aboriginal - communities. 6) For the first time in our history there will be certainty, because the Nisga'a have agreed that they cannot come back for more. 7) Canada provides most of the money (approximately 80 percent) and BC provides traditional Nisga'a land, and what's left of their resources (the land is less than 10 percent of the original claim).
I recognize as a British Columbian and as a business- man that negotiations with other First Nations may be time consuming and difficult, but if the results to the Nisga'a Treaty are any indication, I am not fearful of future results.
British Columbia has a dismal record on minority rights (be those East Indian, Chinese, Japanese or First Nations). The Nisga'a Treaty is an opportunity to mitigate our tarnished past, an opportunity to start the process of healing and working together to our mutual benefit.
One hundred and twenty-seven years is enough - let's begin the new millennia proudly... together.
"Time doesn't heal all wounds; it certainly doesn't solve all problems. It is often merely an excuse for allowing them to fester. Our problems, including our racial problems, belong to us‹not to our descendants."
Ellen Close, Colour-Blind, 1997
Return to Menu