THE GITXSAN hereditary chief who signed the economic benefits deal with Enbridge that has touched off a series of protests says he’s not sorry.
Speaking yesterday Elmer Derrick said that if he was sorry about anything, it would be for the threats received by his family and friends from those who say they oppose Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project.
The deal provides the Gitxsan with an equity stake in the pipeline project, something that could be worth $7 million.
Derrick, the chief land claims negotiator for the Gitxsan Treaty Society, says the most recent deal was two years in the making, and consultation with hereditary chiefs did take place along the way.
In response to the public outcry, Derrick said it was the responsibility of hereditary chiefs to inform their houses about the project. He also said it was within his power to sign the deal.
“We’ve had a working relationship with Enbridge over the last few years,” he said. “The chiefs signed an agreement with Enbridge in 2009.”
Derrick explained that a meeting was held roughly two years ago involving hereditary chiefs that represented about 65 Gitxan houses — each chief being the legal land title holder.
While there was some disagreement over whether or not to negotiate partnership opportunities with Enbridge, it was decided the direction the Gitxaan Nation would move in was pro-Enbridge.
“The houses are the title holders to our lands and resources and that was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997,” said Derrick. “All the houses were represented.”
After the most recent meeting between hereditary chiefs and Enbridge, although he was not there, Derrick said he heard of no objection or questions from those in the meeting’s attendance.
So when it came time to sign the deal, he did — and while he said no one else was in the room, and he is unaware of who knew he would sign the final deal, the negotiations were a part of his job.
“Because I’m the chief negotiator,” he said. “Ever since we ‘ve worked with different economies we’ve always had representations from not just government but from industry players.
The system of dealing with industrial concerns dates back to the fur trade and then with commercial fishing companies and now takes in mining and exploration companies, Derrick said.
“We’re certainly willing to sit down and work with both the government and industry.
“I’m often reminded by younger people that it’s all right for us to celebrate that we have Gitxsan title and rights, but that can’t eat it,” he said. “We have to find ways to bring development opportunities and investors into our area so that the younger families can look after themselves.
Adding to this, Derrick said another rational for signing is the political card it gives the Gitxsan at the treaty negotiation table.
“There’s nothing that is prompting the crown to be serious about treaty negotiations,” he said. “The proposed pipeline should trigger major discussions.
“The crown has to be focused on national energy security which [Canada] doesn’t have,” he said. “If the crown is really serious about the pipeline, then they will have to sit down and talk with the title holders about accommodating our interests and our rights.”
Derrick said it’s not the first time he’s supported industry, noting he was one of the first aboriginal leaders to lobby for the Northwest Transmission Line.
The treaty society, which was established to negotiate a land claims deal and which controls several business enterprises, posted its plans for Enbridge equity sharing on its website in early 2011 under a corporation made by the society to hold and distribute monies collected through industry benefits.