Gitxsan land dispute cools off for now
Kitselas First Nation chief Joe Bevan says his door is open to the Gitxsan First Nation if it wants to discuss overlapping territorial land claims.
The conflicting claims to territory east of Terrace are at the heart of a dispute that nearly boiled over last week between the Gitxsan Treaty Society and the federal and provincial governments.
“We're true to our lands, we know where our territory is, our traditional land, and we've been using it for thousands of years. Our door is open for the Gitxsan to come in and have an open and frank discussion,” said Bevan last week. “It's quite unfortunate that the Gitxsan have taken the role that they have and this type of route, that's not the way we operate but that's what they've chosen to do.”
The Gitxsan Treaty Society, which represents a group of hereditary chiefs, began enforcing what it termed as eviction notices issued to CN Rail, sport fishermen, LNG pipeline companies and other industrial concerns in its 33,000 square kilometre territory Aug. 4. The notices were issued mid-July following a Supreme Court of Canada decision which upheld First Nations title rights and stated aboriginal consent was needed for development.
The Gitxsan say that in treaty negotiations with the Kitselas and Kitsumkalum First Nations, the provincial and federal governments offered traditional Gitxsan land to the two Tsimshian First Nations which were subsequently accepted in respective treaty agreements in principle.
Gitxsan officials say they opposed the agreements when they first became aware of them and have called for them to be rescinded since 2012.
The Gitxsan followed up on their notices by sending out a release Aug. 5 saying a blockade of CN's rail line would begin at 10 p.m.
The next day, CN Rail issued a statement saying no trains had been blocked and it was “business as usual” for the railroad. But, it was later revealed CN had been granted an injunction from the B.C. Supreme Court ordering anyone who blockades the mainline to stop.
Meetings between the Gitxsan Treaty Society and federal and provincial representatives stalled early last week but by Aug. 8, the group said any blockade plan was put on hold until Aug. 25 “pending critical discussions between Crown, Kitselas and Kitsumkalum that may amend their agreements in principle.”
The Kitselas and the Kitsumkalum approved their respective agreements in principle in separate votes more than a year ago and have been working on final treaty details since.
Bevan said Kitselas and the Gitxsan have never had in-depth discussions about the disputed area, which is in the general vicinity of Legate Creek.
“We've always been open to have a discussion,” he said, noting that at one point a plan to share maps and information didn't pan out. “I really hope they take that opportunity because I'd like to sit down and negotiate something with them. If not it's going to be a mediated, potentially government run process.”
Speaking earlier last week, Gitxsan Treaty Society negotiator Beverly Clifton Percival said the Gitxsan's issue was with the government, not the Tsimshian bands.