Nisga’a Nation marks 22nd anniversary of landmark treaty

The Nisga’a Final Agreement which came into effect on May 11, 2000 is the first modern treaty in B.C.

In this file photo, government leaders hold up copies of the Nisga’a Final Agreement which officially came into effect on May 11, 2000. From the left, B.C. Premier Ujjal Dosanjh, Nisga’a Lisims Government president Joe Gosnell and Robert Nault, the federal minister of Indian affairs. (File photo, The Terrace Standard)

In this file photo, government leaders hold up copies of the Nisga’a Final Agreement which officially came into effect on May 11, 2000. From the left, B.C. Premier Ujjal Dosanjh, Nisga’a Lisims Government president Joe Gosnell and Robert Nault, the federal minister of Indian affairs. (File photo, The Terrace Standard)

The Nisga’a Lisims Government (NLG) along with the provincial and federal governments commemorated the 22nd anniversary of the Nisga’a Final Agreement.

The landmark treaty, signed on May 11, 2020 after 113 years of lobbying, is B.C.’s first modern treaty. It was also the first in Canada to provide constitutional certainty in respect to Indigenous peoples’ Section 35 right to self-government.

The treaty put control over land and resources back in the hands of the First Nation, recognizing 2,000 square kilometres of Nisga’a lands in northwest B.C. and provides constitutionally protected treaty rights, including the right to hunt and fish in the Nass Valley and the Nass Wildlife Area.

The historic moment was recognized by NLG president Eva Clayton at the Special Assembly of the Nisga’a Nation which is holding its first in-person gathering since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.

“We appreciate the government-to-government relationship the Nisga’a Nation has with Canada and British Columbia, realized through the Nisga’a Treaty,” Clayton said in a statement.

The Nisga’a Nation includes more than 7,600 people residing in the Villages of Gingolx, Laxgalts’ap, Gitwinksihlkw, and Gitlax̱t’aamiks (formerly New Aiyansh) in the Nass Valley, as well as in Terrace, Prince Rupert/Port Edward, and throughout the Lower Mainland.

In recognizing the day, B.C.’s Premier John Horgan also acknowledged past Nisga’a leadership who worked to finalize the treaty agreement.

“Twenty-two years ago, after a century-long quest for a treaty, the Nisga’a people embarked upon a new journey of self-governance with the Nisga’a Final Agreement,” Horgan said, adding, “I honour the past Nisga’a leadership, who worked so hard to finalize this agreement for future generations, and the present Nisga’a leadership, for continuing to build upon and realize the vision of past generations.

Efforts to negotiate a treaty began as early as 1887, when Nisga’a chiefs travelled to Victoria to demand the negotiation of a treaty and recognition of title and self-government. Canadian laws at the time prevented Indigenous people from raising money to advance land claims.

In 1968, the Nisga’a Tribal Council started legal action in the B.C. Supreme Court and negotiations between the Nisga’a and Canada began in 1976.

The government of British Columbia joined the discussions in 1990. The agreement was signed in Aug. 1998 and came into effect nearly two years later.

The federal minister of Crown-Indigenous Services Marc Miller also acknowledged Nisga’a Nation’s accomplishments over the past 22-years and said the day is an occasion to reflect on what is possible when Indigenous people’s right to self-determination is recognized.

“The Nisga’a have never strayed from its vision to create a better future for its people,” Miller said.

-with files from Terrace Standard archives