Quarterly takes first serious look at Nisga'a agreement

by Bruce Mason
Staff writer

In the midst of widespread interest, controversy and confusion concerning the historic Nisga'a Treaty, UBC's BC Studies: The British Columbian Quarterly has published the first serious look at the agreement.

"How we improve relations between Native peoples and others should receive the type of consideration this issue offers," says Geography Prof. Cole Harris, co-editor of the quarterly. "The treaty itself is an exceedingly important document which requires a broader view and deeper reflection than the popular media can provide."

There is widespread interest in the special issue. Among those who immediately ordered copies are Chief Joe Gosnell, president of the Nisga'a Tribal Council, the Ministry of Justice in Quebec and academics in Australia.

The edition begins, appropriately, with Gosnell's speech to the legislature on Dec. 2, 1998 -- a compact and powerful statement of the treaty's meaning for his people.

Some contributors support the agreement. Hamar Foster, legal historian at the University of Victoria, provides a rich survey of the background. Charles Taylor, distinguished professor emeritus of Philosophy at McGill University, considers the propositions that it is racist and creates an unwarranted level of government. UBC Political Science Assoc. Prof. Sam LaSelva discusses the treaty in relation to Confederation and reflects on some of the fundamentals of this country, liberalism and the U.S.

Other contributors are critical. Gordon Gibson, senior fellow of the Fraser Institute, says the agreement stresses the collective at the expense of the individual, ignoring human nature and the lessons of history. Neil Sterritt, a Gitksan lawyer and a central figure in the long Delgamuukw land claims trial rejects it for very different reasons. He considers it a land grab.

The final word is given to the trickster Raven, as far as he can be caught and reported by John Borrows, an associate professor of Law at the University of Toronto.

"Because of the importance of treaty and the debate that surrounds it, planning for this edition began immediately after the signing on Aug. 4," says UBC Educational Studies Prof. Jean Barman, co-editor of B.C. Studies. "In short order, these seven authors have created an important collection of remarkable writing."

To order a copy of the special issue ($10, plus $2.50 postage), call 604-822-3727. For more information check the Web site http://www.interchange.ubc.ca/bcstudies.