Gitxsan hereditary chiefs from the Spookw and Luutkudziiwus groups led a blockade of Highway 16 in New Hazelton last Saturday to protest environmental approvals issued by the provincial government for three LNG projects in northern B.C.
More than 50 people, some wearing traditional Gitxsan button blankets, gathered outside the Skeena Bakery with banners and signs before blockading the highway at about 2 p.m.
New Hazelton RCMP Corp. Robert Donovan said the blockade, which lasted about 10 minutes, had minimal impact on highway traffic because most motorists were able to make their way around the protest.
He said the protesters were peaceful and responded to RCMP requests to clear the highway.
Spookw chiefs said the blockade was held to send a message to the provincial government that they oppose LNG developments on their territories.
The B.C. Environmental Assessment Office last month issued environmental assessment certificates to the Westcoast Connector Gas Transmission pipeline, the Pacific NorthWest LNG export facility on Lelu Island south of Prince Rupert, and the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline.
Chiefs said all land access to industrial projects west of New Hazelton must pass through their territory, and that their opposition to the LNG projects was non-negotiable.
Hereditary chief Guuhadakwa (Norm Stephens) said he opposed the developments because of the potential impacts on salmon populations in the Skeena estuary.
“The importance of the salmon to the Gitxsan people far outweighs any of the financial benefits that are and may be offered in the future for these LNG pipelines,” he said.
“The risk to the salmon is far to great to allow any pipelines to cross our territories and none will.
“We will not lose the salmon on our watch.”
Luutkudziiwus hereditary chiefs, who have been blocking access to their Madii Lii territory since August, were also present at the blockade.
Chief Luutkudziiwus (Charlie Wright) said TransCanada’s proposed Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline would not be allowed on Madii Lii territory.
“Our Madii Lii territory is not for sale or use by the province of B.C. or TransCanada, a mere third party developer that has no understanding of what they are proposing to do, has no idea of our culture, no idea of our heritage,” he said.
The Gitxsan Development Corporation is currently facilitating negotiations between Gitxsan chiefs and the B.C. government over an LNG benefit agreement which would guarantee financial benefits for the Gitxsan nation.
The Spookw and Luutkudziiwus hereditary chiefs said they denounced the offer because it attempted to bind the entire Gitxsan nation against taking action against the pipeline projects.