A community gathering held last Tuesday at Gitanmaax Hall informed Gitxsan members about the recent B.C. Society Act remedy given to the Gitxsan Treaty Society.
In a May 31 Vancouver B.C. Supreme Court his decision, which took eight months to reach, delivered by Justice Mark McEwan, stated the GTS has 30 days to remedy its failure to abide by the B.C. Society Act, meaning the GTS must have a verified list of members, who will then vote for a board of directors.
Cynthia Joseph, lawyer for the Spookw et al. respondents opposing the GTS, led part of the discussion and relayed what Justice McEwan’s decision means to them, specifically her team’s disapproval of the decision.
“We don’t believe Justice McEwan has the jurisdiction to issue a remedy under section 85 to the GTS,” Joseph said at the meeting.
“Which is why we have filed an appeal which is in and should be reaching the GTS before the end of [June 11, 2013].”
Joseph and the Spookw legal team want all Gitxsan members be included as GTS members and every person given the opportunity to vote.
Bob Barnes, one of the respondents listed in the Spookw v. GTS case, and also current Kispiox band chief councillor agrees.
“Why do 37 people get to decide what is happening with Gitxsan governance and on our lands?” Barnes asked.
“There’s almost 8,000 Gitxsan people and we should all have the chance to be heard.”
This dispute stems from a court case initiated by the Spookw respondents in opposition to the Gitxsan Alternative Governance Model, released in 2008 by the GTS.
The GAGM, a nine-page description of what the GTS insist is wanted by all Gitxsan, namely to be rid of the Indian Act and enable control over Gitxsan lands.
The respondents filed their court case because they do not feel the GAGM reflects all Gitxsan people.
The Society Act matter arose early during the first day of court when GTS lawyers rose to challenge the legitimacy of the respondents standing and were notified by Justice McEwan that they were in breach of the Society Act.
The Society Act remedy was sought from Justice McEwan by GTS lawyers, Bull, Housser and Tupper, who have since stopped representating the GTS.
The Spookw v. GTS case is on hold until the GTS can resolve Society Act discrepancies.
The attitude of the respondents is firm.
“This is not a loss,” Joseph said about the decision, which some view as a victory for the GTS.
“The only thing [the GTS] has won is further litigation.”
However part of the funding for the respondents in the trial may be in jeopardy.
The Gitanmaax Band is currently one entity listed as respondent, but that may change soon and with that change the funding that comes with it.
“We have spent $1.3 million that could have gone back to the communities,” Julie Morrison, Gitanmaax chief councillor, said.
No total for the GTS legal team was available at press time.
Previous Gitanmaax chief councillor, Marj McRae, feels the band council resolution passed by the Gitanmaax band council to assist with funding should remain, but that remains uncertain.
“We set a plan in motion and the current chief and council should honour that plan,” McRae said.
“We have mainly funded our side of this case by taking from the interest pool of the five-year block funding from the federal government.
“This has not affected any core Gitanmaax programs.”
McRae claimed to represent Gitanmaax band interests at the meeting, but Morrison feels differently.
“I have been the chief councillor of Gitanmaax for a year,” Morrison
“Part of the role is the responsibility to speak for [Gitanmaax band] members and I have not delegated
this authority to anyone.”
Regardless of how the funding issue is resolved the case has the potential to shape the future of the Gitxsan people, Joseph said.
One of the key issues is the adherence to a democratic process, which is clearly stated in the GAGM.
The GTS has issued a plea to return to the B.C. treaty process table on GAGM terms.