Nisga'a mourn death of first president Dr Joseph Gosnell

John Crawford
08/18/2020

The man who led the Nisga'a Nation to BC's first modern-day treaty has died at the age of 84.
 
Doctor Joseph Gosnell was a hereditary chief of the Eagle Clan and was a commercial fisherman for many years, before gaining fame as part of the team of Nisga'a negotiators determined to lead his nation out of the federal Indian Act and into self-government.

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During a speech to the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce back in 1997, two years before the treaty was finalized, he explained why.
 
He said "The Indian Act tells you what you can and cannot do on your place of residence, it restricts you from doing certain things that ordinary Canadians take for granted today," adding he viewed the Indian Act as "the Department of Maintaining Poverty amongst Aboriginal People in Canada; it provides no incentive whatsoever to our people, it keeps us where we are, flat down on the rug; we would like to live like all other Canadians, we would like to have the same opportunities and the same services that other Canadians today enjoy in general."
 
Gosnell and his team prevailed and signed the landmark Nisga'a Treaty two years later, and in 2000, he became the first president of the Nisga'a Lisims Government.
 
The current president, Eva Clayton, said the Nisga'a Nation has lost a giant. 
 
"It is indeed a sad day for the Nisga'a Nation; Doctor Gosnell had an array of lifetime accomplishments but he was best known for his elected position of the Nisgga'a Tribal Council, prior to the treaty -- it was when he and his team negotiated the first modern-day treaty which was signed in 1999, it was around that time that he coined the phrase Our Canoe has landed," she said.
 
Clayton said Gosnell always carried himself with dignity and humility, and "he always left his audience with a quote -- I'll give you an example: `live your life as a bear, be afraid of nothing' --- and when he spoke, he spoke with pride as he represented the Nisga'a Nation."
 
Among his many honours, Gosnell was a recipient of the Order of Canada and the Order of BC --- and just last year was named the seventh chancellor of the University of Northern British Columbia.
    
He's survived by his wife of 64 years -- Audrey -- as well as seven children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
 

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