Nisga'a Treaty Opens Economic Doors for Everyone

Article excerpt

The Nisga'a Treaty is a triumph. Ratified and given Royal Assent on Parliament Hill this past April 13, the Treaty also provides good economic news for potential investors and business partners.

Last week marked a turning point in the history of the Nisga'a people. At one minute past midnight on May 10 the new Nisga'a Lisims Government came into effect for the first time, exerting its sovereign control over Nisga'a territory on behalf of its 6,000 citizens.

After more than a century of struggle, we are once againaself-governingpeople. Freecitizens of Canada. Full and equal participants in the social, economic and political life of this province, of this country. With all the rights, and all the responsibilities.

No longer wards of the state, no longer beggars in our own lands, we are now self-determining and self-actualizing. Today, no longer disenfranchised, we are free to make our own mistakes, savor our own victories, and stand on our own feet.

This is all made possible because of the Nisga'a Treaty, which was passed into Canadian law on April 13, 2000.

The Treaty is a triumph for the Nisga'a people -- and all Canadians -- and a beacon of hope for Aboriginal people around the world.

A triumph, I believe, which proves to the world that reasonable people can sit down and settle historical wrongs. Which proves that a modern society can correct the mistakes of the past. As Canadians, we should all be very proud.

Under the Treaty, the first in modern British Columbia history, we will collectively own about 2,000 square kilometres of land, far exceeding the postage-stamp reserves set aside for us by colonial governments. We are now governing ourselves through our own institutions, but within the context of Canadian law.

Clause by clause, the Nisga'a Treaty emphasizes self-reliance, personal responsibility and modern education. It also encourages, for the first time, investment in Nisga'a lands and resources, and allows us to pursue meaningful employment from the resources of our own territory, for our own people.

To potential business partners, it provides much-needed economic certainty and gives us a fighting chance to establish legitimate economic independence -- to prosper in common with our non-Aboriginal neighbours.

I don't have to remind this audience that economic certainty is crucial to the success of any business endeavor, especially in fluid economic times.

In the marketplace, companies who may wish to invest in the Nass River valley -- my home in the rugged and beautiful northwest corner of British Columbia -- are well aware of, and seriously concerned about, the economic uncertainty that surrounds this region as a result of unresolved land claims.

The bottom line is that political instability is always a strike against any area hoping to attract investment or generate and support a lively and successful business community.

That has all changed now. The Treaty has been ratified, affording tremendous long-term, economic opportunities for the Aboriginal and non-aboriginal business people who live and work here.

Many others agree. Recently, the Vancouver accounting firm of KPMG completed a benefits and costs analysis on the impact of treaty settlements.

It said, when all of the financial impacts are considered, the province can expect about a three-to-one return for every dollar spent. KPMG estimates the net financial benefit to British Columbia would be between $3.9 billion and $5.3 billion over 40 years.

Specifically, the Treaty will provide the Nisga'a people -- our population now numbers about 6,000 -- access to the economic and employment mainstream. These will include new economic initiatives in areas such as forestry, commercial fishing and processing, eco- and adventure tourism and world-class sportfishing.

Over time, as income disparity diminishes, savings in social expenditures, and less reliance on government support, will bring additional economic benefits. …