David Black’s Attack on the Nisga’a Treaty

Maurice Switzer

Singer Buffy Sainte-Marie exudes optimism, a commodity not prevalent in many Aboriginal circles for 500 years worth of good reasons.

During a television special a couple of years ago, the much admired Saskatchewan Cree singer spoke of how the ability to turn life’s negatives into positives had helped Indians survive the tests of both inhospitable climates and unfriendly neighbours. And she described how her Prairie ancestors used buffalo droppings as fuel for their fires and to shed light on their camps.

I was thinking of that example this week when David Black, a man wealthy enough to own a chain of British Columbia weekly newspapers, made national headlines by forbidding his 53 editors to write opinion pieces supporting ratification of the historic Nisga’a Treaty. Mr. Black thinks it is wrong for governments to endorse the first modern B.C. land claim, to admit that land was wrongfully taken from First Nations’ people. He does not agree with the Supreme Court of Canada’s Delgamuukw ruling that there is such a thing as Aboriginal land title.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Black’s principles don’t extend to his pocket book. While refusing his editors the right to support the Nisga’a deal, he has had no problem with his 53 advertising managers accepting thousands of dollars being spent by the B.C government to buy advertisements in his papers to provide public health care, or clean environments in hopes that someone more concerned about the public welfare would buy and ad instead. Mr. Black’s actions are not so much about principles as they are about greed, the same sort of greed that cheated the Nisga’a and other First Nations out of their land a century ago.

Black’s chosen means of protest is to stifle free speech in his newspapers, whose very existence is designed to promote that democratic principle. His actions insult all Canadians who value such freedoms. It insults the readers of his newspapers, in whom he doesn’t have confidence to make up their own minds on issues of public importance, and it insults the journalists he employs, by dictating to them what opinions they must have in order to continue drawing their salaries.

Finally, this blatant censorship shows contempt for Indians, 12,000 of who fought on two world wars in this century to ensure that Canadians like Mr. Black could enjoy the freedom to write what they wanted.