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Reviews

Vancouver Sun, February 24, 2001
This is an issue which is far more profound than has yet been grasped by most of the treaty's opponents, including Gordon Campbell and those champions of yesterday's politics of 19th-century colonialism who infest the provincial Liberals.

The Nisga'a Treaty, like Nunavut - yet another target for our dunces of discrimination - is drawing intense interest from other nations grappling with the moral complexities of sharing power with submerged indigenous minorities precisely because it offers an intelligent, compassionate, respectful model for the world.

What we're seeing is the re-invention of these relationships, which permit greater autonomy and self-determination for pre-existing nations within Canada. It is the evolution of a bold new future shaped by morality rather than fear, tyranny and greed.

Spirit Dance at Meziadin is of particular significance because Alex Rose was just about as close to the treaty process as it was possible for an outsider to be. More than a decade ago, he was hired by the Nisga'a tribal council

It's not often that a father-son act comes across the literary transom but that's what we have with the
simultaneous publication of books by retired Vancouver Sun reporter Ron Rose, 81, and by his son Alex, 53, also a
journalist.

But wait, there's more to this tale of dynastic journalism than a duet with words. Chris Rose, 50, another of Ron's
talented offspring, is currently editor of The Sun's opinion pages and usually edits this column. However, the ethical standards around The Sun's newsroom being observed rather more stringently than they appear to be in the offices of either the prime minister or the leader
of the opposition, Chris has declined to handle my column this time. He protests it would place him in a conflict of interest.

Too bad, since it would have made a nice little three-generation item. His grandfather, also an Alex, once toiled
in The Sun's vale of tears, too, beforemoving on to the managing editor's job at the Edmonton Bulletin in 1925. Ron joined The Sun in 1938, founded the first beat covering aboriginal affairs for a Canadian daily newspaper and wound up a career spanning more than four decades and one which included posts on the city desk and as a legislature correspondent in Victoria.

In any event, on to the books, both of which I found fascinating.

I'll first mention Spirit Dance at Meziadin: Joseph Gosnell and the Nisga'a Treaty, which is by Alex Rose and is currently in press with Howard White's Harbour Publishing.

It's going to attract national attention because it deals with the emrging shape of aboriginal self-government.

This is an issue which is far more profound than has yet been grasped by most of the treaty's opponents, including Gordon Campbell and those champions of yestarday's politics of 19th-century colonialism who infest the provincial Liberals.

The Nisga'a Treaty, like Nunavut - yet another target of our dunces of discrimination - is drawing intense interest from other nations grappling with the moral complexities of sharing power with submerged indigenous minorities precisely because it offer an intelligent, compasstionate, repectful model for the world.

What we're seeing is the re-invention of these relationships, which permit greater autonomy and self-determination for pre-existing nations within Canada. It is the evolution of a bold new future shaped by morality rather than fear, tyranny and greed.

Spirit Dance at Meziadin is of particular significance because Alex Rose was just about as close to the treaty process as it was possible for an outsider to be. More than a decade ago, he was hired by the Nisga'a tribal council and charged with the task of explaining to Canadians the ethical and philosophical basis for their tireless 130-year-old quest to settle the question of ancient rights to their land and the legitimacy of their own governing institutions.

Nisga'a: Pepple of the Nass, one of the two books which followed, won the Roderick Haig-Brown Award in 1993. But in Spirit Dance at Meziadin, Rose brings his considerable skills of reportage to bear on the process itself and the players who drove it forward.

At the forefront is Joe Gosnell, the North Coast fisherman who leads the new Nisga'a government and is richly deserving of his recent elevation to the Order of Canada as the nation's greatest aboriginal statesman since Joseph Brant, Crowfoot and Poundmaker.

Na-qua-oon, better known as Frank Calder, the elder who launched the legal proceedings that triggered treaty negotiations, is here. So are the tenacious negotiators whose names are not exactly household words - James Gosnell, Ed Wright, Alvin McKay, Rod Robinson, Harry Nyce and Nelson Leeson.

The long-dead chiefs who refused to submit to an evil land grab, the non-Nisga'a consultants like Rose himself, hired to manage media and public image, the lawyers and the federal and provincial politicians are all considered.

Rose doesn't hide his sympathy for the Nisga'a cause, yet his book is remarkably even-handed.

All the foes of the treaty are here and receive respectful treatment: Rafe Mair, Gordon Gibson, the late Mel Smith, small-town paper newspaper magnate David Black, local Reform party MP Mike Scott former premier Bill Vander Zalm and present opposition leader Gordon Campbell.

In fact, considering the way their quaint Kiplingesque arguments have been systematically demolished by the courts, by the political process and by informed public opinion, I think Rose is rather magnanimous.

What makes the book most valuable to the British Columbian's bookshelf is precisely this ability to contextualize an emotionally charged issue and to do it in language that is accessible and renders a complicated history easy to comprehend.
-Stephen Hume, The Vancouver Sun


Quill and Quire
Spirit Dance at Meziadin: Joseph Gosnell and the Nisga'a Treaty
Alex Rose's Spirit Dance at Meziadin 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 precis. 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 (Meziadin 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 multi-million-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.
-Suzanne Methot, Quill & Quire


Terrace Standard
Spirit Dance opens door to treaty drama
A new book by an insider to the Nisga'a treaty had the potential to be seen as a final sales pitch for the client or a tell-all account of what really went on behind the scenes.

Spirit Dance at Meziadin: Chief Joseph Gosnell and the Nisga'a Treaty, by West Vancouver writer Alex Rose, doesn't really fall into either category. Rose was hired by the Nisga'a Tribal Council in 1989 to help explain the Nisga'a and their quest for a treaty to a largely unaware Canadian public. His role as spin doctor meant he helped shape some of the strategies the Nisga'a used to gain acceptance for the treaty, a ground-breaking agreement that's been alternately hailed and criticized.

It also gave him unparalleled access to the key players on the negotiating team. Spirit Dance at Meziadin effortlessly brings us up to speed on the complex components of the treaty, its historical context, and the central figures who toiled away, duty bound, for more than a century in the struggle to settle the land question.

While other native groups have chosen confrontation over negotiation, the Nisga'a decided very early on to play by the white men's rules and beat them at their own game. Former MLA and Nisga'a leader Frank Calder recalls how at age four his father held him up to a group of chiefs and proclaimed he would learn how to speak, walk, and eat like a white man. "He is the one that's going to bring this case to the highest court in the land."

With history on their side, and armed with key legal victories like the Calder decision, the Nisga'a embarked on 23 long years of negotiations. The high road took its toll; contemporary Nisga'a men like Joseph Gosnell, Edmund Wright, Nelson Leeson and others are sensitively portrayed as scarred, even damaged by the endless succession of meetings, flights, and more meetings as negotiations dragged on.

Gosnell, who became for many Canadians the very face of the treaty itself, not coincidentally, remains an enigmatic figure. Only after his return from residential school would he realize that the carved beams in his grandfather's crawl space were the remnants of totem poles chopped down from Gitwinksihlkw's main street on the advice of Christian missionaries.

Shy well into adulthood and only truly at home on the water as a commercial fishermen, Gosnell was thrust into a leadership role after the death of his elder brother James, a charismatic firebrand. Like the other key members of the team, he emerges as a tragic figure; a lonely man who spent years of his life away from his wife and children, his face and body language communicating an "unutterable loneliness and weariness."

Illustrated on nearly every page, the book functions as a documentary, seamlessly blending the spare, fluid narrative with dazzling photographs, most by Vancouver freelance photographer Gary Fiegehen, who himself played a key role in promoting the treaty.

Fiegehen spent years taking pictures of the Nisga'a and produced a number of books, brochures and calendars. The Nisga'a leadership realized it was crucial to hire certain specialists. They actively recruited white consultants, people who were experts in their respective fields and sympathetic to the cause.

The "spirit dance" of the title could well describe the attempt by both sides to straddle the cultural divide separating the Nisga'a and their white counterparts. But Rose is being a little coy here about the extent of his job.

Although he doesn't say so in the book, Rose was a main crafter of the acclaimed speech Chief Joseph Gosnell delivered to the B.C. Legislature when the province introduced the treaty for debate. That speech is reprinted in full in Spirit Dance at Meziadin, a book that sheds few tears for the treaty's opponents.

Former Skeena MP Mike Scott, the Reform party's aboriginal affairs critic, is just one detractor that's been crushed under the heft of the Nisga'a juggernaut as it rolled over the opposition. The neighbouring Gitanyow, who've accused the Nisga'a of shutting the door on an unresolved territorial overlap, are another casualty.

It's hard to determine if Rose is still playing the part of a dutiful consultant. But there's no doubt as to Rose's impressive storytelling abilities as he compresses 130 years of history into a readable, informative overview that contains plenty of surprising information, even if he doesn't spill much dirt.
-Jennifer Lang, Terrace Standard


The Georgia Straight
Few subjects prompt such politically charged, racially divisive dialogue as the Nisga'a treaty. In Spirit Dance at Meziadin: Chief Joe Gosnell and the Nisga'a Deal (sic), author Alex Rose, communications stalwart for the Nisga'a, uses his insider's position to provide a unique take on the negotiations that led to the historic agreement. The book, Rose's third work on the Nisga'a, follows Nisga'a: Bringing Our Ancestors Home and Nisga'a: People of the Nass.

Spirit Dance at Meziadin is conversationally written, and the effect is not unlike when I'm taught something by my tribe's elders through the telling of stories. In Rose's words, he "seeks to share events as he witnessed them," and he effectively does so, unencumbered by any ology.

The first chapter, entitled "The Treaty," contains an extremely succinct description of the Nisga'a treaty - a valuable tool for anyone interested in understanding the agreement. A magnificent collection of historic and contemporary photographs graces almost every page of the book and spans the course of the negotiations.

The book begins with Joe Gosnell's moving speech to the B.C. legislature in December 1998. The speech marked an end to a century of negotiations and demonstrated how far the Nisga'a had come: from being discounted in 1887 as "little better than beasts in the field" to being acknowledged as a nation with its own legally recognized rights and interests.

Rose astutely observes the personalities involved in the negotiations. In the chapter "The Peaceful Warriors," he explores the lives of early Nisga'a battlers Frank Calder and James Gosnell. Rose recounts the unfolding of negotiations through the experiences of these two men. Calder, whom he describes as a visionary, spearheaded the famous "Calder Case," which sought to prove aboriginal title. Gosnell comes across as a fierce, fiery orator who abhorred the indignity in which his people lived. He spoke hard truths that aboriginal and nonaboriginal alike didn't want to hear, and his "lock, stock, and barrel" statement, over which controversy still smoulders, is chronicled.

Despite his central role in negotiations, Joe Gosnell is portrayed as an ordinary man who, with patience honed while a fisherman, navigated through an extraordinary time. The setbacks he endured in his life - the years of residential schooling and the death of his brother James - strengthened his resolve to overcome any opposition.

If you don't know anything about the Nisga'a or their treaty, Spirit Dance at Meziadin is an excellent start. If you do know something about the author and the Nisga'a, you still come away having learned to look at things anew.
-Wawmeesn George Hamilton, The Georgia Strait