Opinion

Gitxsan chief explains pipeline deal

ELMER DERRICK touched off protests and ultimately the blockade of the Gitxsan Treaty Society office in Hazelton through his Dec. 2, 2011 signing of an economic benefits deal tied to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project.

A hereditary chief and a senior land claims negotiator for the treaty society, Derrick has been heavily criticized by those who oppose Enbridge.

In this edited-for-length version of an address given by Derrick to a group of Gitxsan hereditary chiefs in mid-December, he provides more detail.

We can never forfeit any of the assets that we collectively own, including the 33,000 square kilometres of territories under Gitxsan title.

Every community has at least two clans. Most communities have three and some four. Most Gitxsan villages have at least two land holding clans.

Clans work together to be of mutual support and to offer organizational checks and balances. In my community of Gitsegukla, the Frog Simgiigyet have to work closely with the Fireweed Simgiigyet.

As we all know, the Gitxsan Nation is made up of independent houses. The term that is currently applied to the collectivity of Gitxsan houses is the Gimlitxwit.

The Gimlitxwit  number about 62 members. Each house has between three and six wing chiefs so the total number of Gitxsan chiefs who are there to protect and defend the Gitxsan  include about 350 men and women.

Every Gitxsan person has the responsibility to assume a role for his or herself.

Since the early 1950s, the Indian Act began to impact the Gitxsan. Chiefs and councils were put into place by Indian Agents. These band councils are elected every two years and the band administrations provide municipal-type services.

Other Gitxsan organizations have been established to provide specific common services to some of the villages.

The Gitxsan Treaty Society was formed to be the administrative arm of the group that was appointed to conduct treaty and reconciliation negotiations with the Crown. This group is appointed by the clans and affirmed by the  Gimlitxwit.

Issues

Since the Gitxsan Treaty Society was formed, it has faced challenges from different Gitxsan houses and chiefs.

Since its inception, the treaty society has not been allowed time to conduct its business. There have been lawsuits and confrontations from the beginning.

The legal challenge that the second board faced continued until a new challenge came up. This new challenge is draining the limited financial resources available to the treaty society that should be applied in a more productive way.

Direct confrontational steps have been taken to remove myself,  Bev  Clifton  Percival,  and Gordon Sebastian from our roles as negotiators for the nation.

Strong objections have been made to the matter of my signing an agreement with Northern Gateway Pipelines.

What now

The tactic  of blockading the office will not lead to a resolution that will work for either side. I suggest that the people that are mad at the Treaty Society and the Negotiators put together a plan to deal with strengthening the Treaty Society. A number of positions are up for new appointments.

These should be filled very carefully by the clans as soon as possible. The new members of the Treaty Society Board should be free from political baggage. The terms should be set and adhered to and the Board should be allowed to look after its affairs.

Another step that can be taken is for both parties to form a Committee that can work towards a mutual solution. There should be two members from each camp and an independent Chair should be appointed by the four Chiefs. A time frame should be fixed that the Committee can work within. I know that good people can work on accommodating each other so that we can move ahead and pay attention to our responsibilities and meet more community needs.

Bev Clifton Percival and Gordon Sebastian should be kept on as Negotiators for the next few years. Bev has a number of years of experience under her belt and is well respected by the Crown and other First Nations organizations. Gordon brings an edge to the Gitxsan  table that keeps the Crown on its toes. The two Gitxsan negotiators have not done anything wrong to warrant dismissal. Both Bev and Gordon have institutional and corporate memory that cannot be replaced.

I signed the agreement with Northern Gateway because there was already an existing agreement from 2009.

First contact from Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipelines was made with the Gitxsan Treaty Society office in August 2004. One of the attendees of the meeting was Ralph Tiger Michell. Subsequent meetings were held with different people from  Northern Gateway  over a number of years until an agreement was signed in Prince George in 2009.

You will recall that at the Gitxsan Summit in Gitwangak that a presentation was made to the audience where we were told that there was a deadline in signing the next agreement and that we were also working on a project known as Cascadero  Falls.

I signed the extension to the 2009 agreement because of the promise of financial benefits to the Gitxsan Nation.

With the number of First Nations that have signed the offer from Norther  Gateway Pipelines, we are now eligible for two shares of the aboriginal portion of the pipelines.

I believe that Canada will enable the Northern Gateway pipeline to be built. The rationale will be to secure a new national energy policy.

Even if I and every other fat guy laid in front of the hoes that dug the trenches we would not be able to stop the construction.

It will be built and due to the agreement that I signed with Enbridge, we can have a say on the project.

The Harper government can do anything it wants with its majority over the next few years.

The Gitxsan  Treaty Society had no input into my signing the agreement. Bev  and Gordon had no input into my signing of the agreement. I assume all responsibility for the 2011 Agreement.

In order to build the pipelines, Canada will have to deal with aboriginal interests. Legislation will have to be put in place and that legislation will have to include dealing with aboriginal title and rights.

I believe that the other BC  First Nations that signed the agreement will create enough pressure to get Canada to the negotiations table.

In the next few days, please watch with a keen eye the developments in the Middle East. Iran continues to flex its muscle in the Strait  of Hormuz. The price of oil products will surely increase. Oil politics will smack us all in the pocketbook.

Locally

The economy of the northwest has been in the toilet for a number of years. The number of young people that we have lost to suicide and other violent deaths cannot be justified. Every time I attend feasts I remember seeing the smiles of some of these young people who were very happy being Gitxsan in the feasts. I cannot imagine how it is to be too desperate not to have any hope. The  Gimlitxwit have been aware of the need to get more from the northwest economy.

The planning that Dan George has helped with has focused on getting us on track by using our resources to build our economy.

We all know that we need to get people with money to invest in projects with us. One of our advisors has been trying to get the Crown to advance us some capital through the treaty process. This has all been to no avail.

A number of years ago, we created a corporation known as Git Corp. The formal name was Gitxsan Houses Trading into Europe and Asia. This company was able to pay off the legal expenses that we incurred in the Delgamuukw cases.

Whether we get any support from our elected representatives, we have to find projects that can bring economic activity to our region.

Our elected representatives have their own agenda and generally do not care about our communities. We will always be stuck with ineffective representation in this riding. The NDP  gave away a lot of Gitxsan titled lands, yet the Gitxsan continue to vote for them.

The chiefs will continue to represent Gitxsan interests in Victoria, Ottawa, and corporate boardrooms.

 

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