Nisga’a leader behind B.C.’s ‘first modern treaty’ dead at 84

Joseph Gosnell “carried himself quietly and with dignity, but when he spoke, he was heard.”

Dr. Joseph Gosnell, the lead negotiator on the historic BC treaty for the Nisga’a Nation, passed away in his home in Northern B.C. on Aug. 18 following a long battle with cancer.

He was 84.

Gosnell was president of the Nisga’a Nation for the province’s first modern-day treaty, which was finalized with both B.C. and the federal government in 2000.

“He and his team negotiated our first modern-day treaty. In fact, he coined the term ‘Our Canoe Has Landed’ — this was after 113 years of the fight to get our treaty,” Nisga’a Lisims Government President Eva Clayton told APTN News in a phone interview.

Gosnell travelled the world as an ambassador to the Nisga’a Nation and was recognized for his contributions.

He was awarded the Order of B.C. in 1999 and named Companion to The Order of Canada in 2006.

He also received multiple honorary law degrees before being named the University of Northern British Columbia’s chancellor last year.

“The world has lost a tremendous leader, a man who repeatedly demonstrated a love for his community, his people, education and a commitment to enhancing the lives of others,” said UNBC Interim President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Geoffrey Payne in a statement on the university’s website. “His dedication to education was evident during his time as Chancellor. He brought dignity and respect to all proceedings, and spoke thoughtfully, inspiring our graduates at Convocation. He will be dearly missed.”

Clayton says their nation lost a giant.

“He was a man who carried himself quietly and with dignity, but when he spoke, he was heard. He was the Nisga’a Nation’s Ambassador. He left a legacy, this legacy lives on in his family,” she said.

Gosnell was a lifetime fisherman and a renowned politician.

He was hereditary chief — or Sim’oogit — of the Eagle Clan with the Nisga’a name Hleek.

“Through his wisdom, dignity and determination, Dr. Joseph Gosnell helped lead the Nisga’a people out of the Indian Act and into self-government through his work in negotiating and implementing the Nisga’a Treaty, which has become a beacon of hope for people the world over,” said Clayton.

“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.”

Gosnell was married to his wife Audrey Adele for 64 years and lived his home community of Gitlax̱t’aamiks.

Together they had seven children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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