Calling it a “significant milestone” in the relationship between the Nisga’a Lisims Government (NLG) and the province of British Columbia, officials from both parties signed a series of agreements today which advance Nisga’a treaty implementation and lay out a framework for future economic benefits for the Nisga’a Nation.
The official signing ceremony at the Nisga’a legislative assembly in New Aiyansh saw aboriginal affairs minister John Rustad and NLG president Mitchell Stevens sign off on an agreement which will enable the NLG to collect property taxes from non-Nisga’a citizens who live on Nisga’a lands and have taxing authority over industrial installations, like pipelines, which pass through Nisga’a territory.
“We now occupy the tax room, through the agreement, that B.C. occupied,” said Stevens at the official signing, calling it “a very significant step in the history of the province of B.C. and the Nisga’a Nation.”
The Nisga’a Real Property Tax Coordination Agreement, which still requires legislation from both governments to bring its terms into effect, is a pledge that solidifies one track of provincial and Nisga’a discussions following the implementation of the 2000 Nisga’a Final Agreement, which contained within it a commitment from all parties to negotiate a taxation agreement.
The Nisga’a Final Agreement, negotiated with federal and provincial governments, is central to the agreements signed onto today and contains provisions which the Nisga’a say ensures that any industrial development that takes place on Nisga’a lands must both respect the rights of aboriginal people and protect the environment.
“When any type of development is to proceed on this land we’ve been very consistent that we would not trade off the rights and interests of Nisga’a citizens for economic development,” said Stevens. “All development in our territory must be consistent with the Nisga’a Final Agreement.”
To that end, the Nisga’a and the province also signed off on a settlement agreement which resolves the dispute over the environmental assessment of Avanti Mining’s Kitsault Mine project.
The Nisga’a formally opposed the provincial government’s environmental approval for Avanti granted last year, saying it didn’t follow the provisions within the Nisga’a Final Agreement.
It first used a provision in the final agreement to resolve disagreements and then filed a suit against the provincial government.
That suit, however, was put on hold last fall, paving the way for a revenue sharing deal with Avanti, an agreement that includes environmental protection measures for its planned molybdenum mine at Kitsault.
The settlement agreement lays out a collaborative framework for future environment assessments and a “commitment to negotiated the Nass Stewardship protocol, a government-to-government collaboration agreement that will help the Nisga’a Nation and B.C. work together to promote responsible natural resource management and development in a way that honours B.C,’s and the Nisga’a Nation’s responsibilities under the treaty,” reads a background document provided by the parties.
The Kitsault Mine Economic and Community Development Agreement will enable the Nisga’a to further tap into taxation benefits from the Kitsault mine, providing a 35 per cent share of provincial mineral tax revenue from that mine’s projected 14 to 16 year operation.
The parties have also agreed to work towards a similar development agreement for future mining projects.
“These agreements are positive steps forward for the Nisga’a Nation and highlight the success we have had working together through the Nisga’a Treaty,” said Rustad at the signing. “The ability to more effectively implement the Nisga’a Treaty and generate revenue from property taxes, and share mining and clean energy revenue is good news for Nisga’a communities and for British Columbians.”