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Spirit Dance at Mezidian: Joseph Gosnell and the Nisga’a Treaty

by Alex Rose

Alex Rose’s Spirit Dance at Mezidian is a short, sharp, and considered explication of the land settlement treaty drafted between the Nisga’a and the B.C. and Canadian governments. It could, in fact, be nicknamed the Rose Notes version of the Nisga’a treaty. Rose, a media and strategy consultant to the Nisga’a, is a master of the précis. In only a couple of hundred pages the author covers more ground than the thousands of stories generated by the print media in the last decade of the Nisga’a negotiations – and he offers a more nuanced portrait, too.

Despite the subtitle, this book is not about Joseph Gosnell. Recently elected president of the new Nisga’a government, Gosnell is mentioned throughout. But other players – such as lead lawyer and treaty architect Jim Aldridge and longtime Nisga’a lawyer Thomas Berger – weave in and out of the 38-year-long negotiations.

The author also includes details on the geography of the Nisga’a territory (Mezidian Lake is the glacial headwater of the Nass River), the pre-contact traditional economy, post-contact epidemics that killed entire villages, Anglican residential schools, the effect of the famous Delgamuukw and Sparrow court decisions on the Nisga’a, and media coverage of the Nisga’a treaty process.

There are also three informative appendixes, including Joseph Gosnell’s reply to public misconceptions perpetuated by misinformation from the political right. And Rose doesn’t shy away from more controversial issues: he mentions the serf-like position of many Nisga’a citizens in their traditional feudal society, the dearth of women in the political leadership, rival land claims, the often sordid behaviour of privileged aboriginal politicians, and concerns about the ability of the Nisga’a to manage the multimillion-dollar settlement.

This isn’t a quickie biography of one man: it’s a highly informative and clearly written glimpse into the insider world of treaty-making.