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Canada, Indian Tribe Near Agreement

July 16, 1998

TERRACE, British Columbia (AP) _ After trying for more than a century, the Nisga’a Indians of northern British Columbia reached agreement with government negotiators Wednesday on the details of a precedent-setting land-claims treaty.

Federal and provincial officials hope agreement on the first modern land-claims treaty in British Columbia will clear the way for similar deals with dozens of other Indian communities in the province. Unlike Indians elsewhere in Canada, British Columbia’s tribes never gave up their land and resource rights in treaties.

Government and Nisga’a negotiators reached an agreement-in-principle in February 1996 after more than 20 years of on-again, off-again talks. Since then, negotiations on the details of the pact have continued.

The final treaty is expected to be similar to the agreement-in-principle. It provided the Nisga’a with $128 million and about 770 square miles in the Lower Nass valley.

The Nisga’a _ more than half of whom live outside the remote designated territory _ were also to receive fishing and forestry rights and set up their own government, policing and courts.

Joe Gosnell, chief negotiator for the Nisga’a Tribal Council, said he felt ``absolutely great″ about the deal, although the Nisga’a didn’t get everything they wanted.

British Columbia Premier Glen Clark had high hopes for the deal, saying his government will ensure the legislature ratifies it.

``This is a critical juncture in terms of reconciliation with aboriginal people in B.C.,″ Clark said. ``It’s an important template for future negotiations. This is for all the marbles, so to speak.″

The deal has its critics. Provincial opposition parties say the treaty gives the Nisga’a powers and rights not enjoyed by other British Columbians.

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