British Columbia Indian tribe signs historic treaty

NEW AIYANSH, British Columbia (AP) — To the rhythm of drums and ancient songs, chiefs of the Nisga’a Indians neared the end of a century-old quest Tuesday by signing a treaty giving them land rights and self-government in their rugged mountain homeland.
The treaty must be approved within 90 days by a vote among the Nisga’a, then ratified by the federal Parliament and the British Columbia legislature. The majority parties at both the federal and provincial level strongly support the treaty.
The Nisga’a chief negotiator, Joe Gosnell, told the crowd at the signing ceremony how Nisga’a leaders paddled by canoe to the provincial capital, Victoria, in 1887 to request a treaty. They were rebuffed, and the Nisga’a then endured “100 years of darkness,” Gosnell said.
The treaty gives the Nisga’a $190 million ($126 million U.S.) in cash over 15 years, plus title to 1,930 square kilometers (745 square miles) of land in the Nass Valley of northwestern British Columbia.
The Nisga’a, now plagued by an unemployment rate of about 60 percent, will get rights to resources on their land, including timber, minerals and fish. They will be able to pass their own laws and operate their own court system; in return they relinquish their tax-exempt status and agree to make no future claims,.
British Columbia’s two main opposition parties have demanded a province-wide referendum on the treaty, but Premier Glen Clark has rejected the appeal.
Though the Nisga’a are expected to approve the treaty in their own vote, many members of the community wonder if their negotiators conceded too much. They settled for one-tenth of the the original land claim, and agreed to make no further claims in the future.