Dan Yunkws

Dan Yunkws

Gitxsan divide remains despite best efforts

A blockade, a court case, an angry judge and RCMP on the standby, but more importantly Gitxsan families and a community divided.

A blockade, a court case, an angry judge and RCMP on the standby, but more importantly Gitxsan families and a community divided.

The current troubles among Gitxsan people began in December when Hereditary Chief Elmer Derrick signed a $7 million deal with Enbridge Inc., on behalf of the Gitxsan First Nation.  The move sparked anger among the Gitxsan people and the Gitxsan Unity Movement established a blockade at the offices of the GTS in Hazelton.

Although the deal was revoked, both sides have since been in and out of court.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Mark McEwan, who has heard the arguments, ruled the blockade at the GTS offices in Hazelton is illegal and ordered it be dismantled and found the structure of the GTS did not meet the B.C. Societies Act.

Nonetheless both sides have remained steadfast in their positions, drawing the ire of Justice McEwan.

“I’m up to my eyeballs in Gitxsan governance,” McEwan is quoted as saying, by the Globe and Mail, when both parties were recently back in court.

“Once you lose control of a situation and you’re stuck with coming to court, it’s got to have some shape that the court can address.”

McEwan, and the GTS are also disappointed with the RCMP dragging their feet in dismantling the GUM blockade.

“The RCMP have done nothing to facilitate dialogue and the first we ever heard of a “mediator” was when we read the RCMP press release last week,” Beverly Clifton Percival (Gwaans) a Hereditary Chief with the GTS, said in a press release.

“RCMP inaction bespeaks of a terrible disrespect for us and our community.”

Seeking a mediated solution to the disputes, National Chief of the Assembly of first Nation’s, Shawn Atleo and Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs leader Stewart Phillips went to Hazelton and drafted The Mother’s Day Accord, calling for, among other items, the removal of the contempt and injunction on Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs leading the GUM blockade, dismantling of the blockade at the GTS office, and examination of all documents in the GTS offices by an independent third party.

Despite this, Justice McEwan was still not impressed Monday, May 13, and word went out of the imminent arrest of several Hereditary Chiefs aligned with the blockade.

More than 200 GUM supporters made their way to the GTS offices to support their chiefs, including spokesperson John Olson.

“That’s our royalty,” Olson said of the chiefs and why he offered to be arrested in their place.

McEwan then met with both sides in camera and no arrests were made.

Details of the meetings haven’t been released.

Despite the accord, the GTS continued to press for the dismantling of the blockade and the arrest of Hereditary Chiefs supporting GUM.

Olson, however, remained positive.

“I’m really optimistic” he said of the likelihood both sides would soon step into the light at the end of the tunnel.

Signatories to the Mother’s Day Accord have not been released, the blockade at the GTS offices continues and arrests have not been made.