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, Nisga’a leader Joseph Gosnell and Robert Nault, the federal minister of Indian affairs. (File photo, The Terrace Standard)

Former Nisga’a Nation leader passes away

Joseph Gosnell was instrumental in negotiating landmark 2000 self-governing treaty

The Nisga’a leader who was at the forefront of the Nisga’a Nation’s 2000 land claims and groundbreaking self-governing treaty with the provincial and federal governments has passed away.

Dr. Joseph Gosnell passed away at his home in Gitlaxt’aamiks (New Aiyansh) in the Nass Valley after a long battle with cancer, the Nisga’a Nation reported today in a statement.

“His focus was always on what the Nisga’a, British Columbians, and Canadians can achieve together. His legacy will help shape the project of reconciliation for generations to come,” said Nisga’a Lisims Government president Eva Clayton.

Gosnell was among a core group of Nisga’a leaders who negotiated the 2000 treaty in his capacity as president of the Nisga’a Tribal Council. He was then elected as the first president of the Nisga’a Lisims Government.

Gosnell was recognized for his achievements by being named as a Companion of the Order of Canada, receiving the Order of British Columbia and four Honourary Doctorate of Laws degrees. In 2019, he was sworn in as the Chancellor of the University of Northern British Columbia.

Speaking to the provincial legislature in 1998, the year the treaty was signed leading to its implementation in 2000, Gosnell called the treaty document a triumph.

It is “a triumph because, under the treaty, we will no longer be wards of the state, no longer beggars in our own lands,” said Gosnell.

“A triumph because, under the treaty, 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 will once again govern ourselves by our own institutions, but within the context of Canadian law.”

“It is a triumph because, under the treaty, we will be allowed to make our own mistakes, to savour our own victories, to stand on our own feet once again.”

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