The Gitxsan First Nation has vowed to block any natural gas pipeline construction on their territory unless certain title rights are acknowledged by the government for an area of disputed land.
Kitsumkalum and Kitselas First Nations approved land claims agreements in principle with the federal and provincial governments last spring, paving the way for final treaty negotiations.
This would grant them ownership to tracts of land extending east of Terrace, towards the Gitxsan traditional territory, but the Gitxsan argue that part of the land contained in those agreements in principle to form part of the eventual Kitsumkalum and Kitselas final treaties is in fact theirs and want it recognized as such.
To leverage their claim, the Gitxsan now say they want no further work done on planned natural gas pipelines that would pass through their territory toward planned liquefied natural gas plants around Prince Rupert and at Kitimat.
This would have an affect on the ability of three proposed pipelines to proceed in their area including the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission project by TransCanada, Westcoast Connector project by Spectra Energy and the Pacific Northern Gas looping project.
“The [federal and provincial] crowns refuse to abide by the rulings of B.C. courts that the Gitxsan have strong prima facie rights and good prima facie title to these lands since contact in 1846,” says a media release from the Office of the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs.
“There are several parcels of land that are within Gitxsan traditional territory,” said Gitxsan negotiator Bev Clifton Percival in an interview, adding that court decisions over the past several decades upheld Gitxsan rights to the disputed area.
The area includes two rivers near Gitsegukla and Kitwanga and land used by 3,000 people, she said.
An offer from the provincial government to oversee a mediation process has been met with refusal by the Gitxsan chiefs, and Percival said that they want to resolve the issue through a traditional system.
“If you mediate you compromise your position and we are not saying that we do not own the lands,” said Percival. “We have traditional forms of dispute resolution that these two Indian Act Bands do not want to enter into, so we have our own mechanisms for solving disputes but we are not going to enter a European mediation that would undermine our own lands.”
Percival also said the Tsilhqot’n Supreme Court of Canada decision late last month strengthens the case for aboriginal title.
“And given the Tsilhqot’in decision this week we know the crown’s legislation and their authority has been undermined severely by the Supreme Court of Canada in the granting of title lands.”
The Gitxsan wish to meet with the Kitselas and Kitsumkalum, she added.