Gitxsan members of the Lax Skiik, Eagle Clan, from the Kitwanga area met with British Columbia negotiators last Friday to explore how part of Gitxsan land is involved in a proposed Kitselas treaty agreement.
The current agreement in principle (AIP) between the Kitselas and B.C. provincial government would net the Kitselas almost 940 square kilometres, with most of the land being northwest of Terrace.
A portion of the proposed land in the agreement overlaps with western Gitxsan territory recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada’s Delgamuukxw decision in December 1997.
The Kitselas AIP is shocking according to Skayan (Anita Davis), a Lax Skiik chief.
“Our maps have been around for quite some time and no other Nation has ever come forward, as far as I know, to dispute the Delgamuukxw decision,” Skayan said.
“The Kitselas have never come to us to say ‘Thank you for defending our territory.’”
The B.C. negotiators did not bring a copy of the AIP in question, a final draft is being completed, and they also kept pressing their belief that the meeting with the Lax Skiik was the beginning of consultations, but Davis and the rest of the assembled Gitxsan see it differently.
“To us it was just a meeting where we discussed the Gitxsan territory on the [AIP], that’s it,” Skayan said.
In Gitxsan the land in question is called win’a’weta, meaning ‘where the creeks join’ and since the Sept. 10, 2012 release of the AIP between the Kitselas and B.C., the Gitxsan have emphasized they will fight for what is legally theirs.
“Under the circumstances, any trespass will not be tolerated and the province cannot ignore the law,” Davis said.
Gwaans (Beverly Clifton-Percival) negotiator for the Gitxsan Chiefs Office, also attended the meeting to reinforce the Lax Skiik position.
The Gitxsan hereditary system has been determined to pre-date any map and the Kitselas are operating through a Band Office system, a government construct, which, according to Gwaans, has no claim to aboriginal rights and title.
“The Gitxsan have a land tenure system in which each chief and house group can recite their Adaawk,” Gwaans said.
“So we’re able to speak to how we own that land.
Adaawk is, in part, the stories and songs attached to a certain territory that tell Gitxsan history.
Gwaans would be interested to hear the Kitselas “adaawk” for the portion of territory that spills onto, as the Delgamuukxw decision states, Gitxsan land.
The process leading to this dispute began when the Kitselas approached the British Columbia government with a statement of intent, which included a delineated map and a claim to rights and title, according to Robert Leece, senior negotiator for B.C. ministry of aboriginal relations and reconciliation (BCMARR).
The BCMARR puts the onus on the Kitselas to come up with a solution to the overlap land claimed and encourages the disputing Nations to negotiate accordingly, Leece said.
At no point in negotiations did BCMARR step in to dissuade the Kitselas from pursuing established Gitxsan lands.
The Kitselas were not aware of a meeting between the Gitxsan and BCMARR, according to Judy Gerow, Kitselas chief councillor.
“I guess that was the first step for the B.C. government to meet with the Gitxsan,” Gerow said.
“Until we meet with B.C. there’s really nothing we can say about that.”
There was no meeting between Kitselas and B.C. scheduled at press time.
Both BCMARR and Kitselas were fully aware of the overlapping claim in the statement of intent and no effort was made to discuss the matter with Gitxsan representatives prior to drafting the AIP.
The Gitxsan want the BCMARR to take some responsibility in clarifying how part of designated Gitxsan land is being claimed by another nation, according to Gwaans.
“B.C. should’ve been prepared with maps showing Gitxsan territory with the exact area in question marked out,” Gwaans said.
“I think it was really disheartening because all the parties involved were not at the table, which is very important when overlapping territory and right and title is in question.”