Percy N. Hébert and Shannon Hurst
Last Monday the Gitxsan people of the Pacific Northwest took a big step towards unity, but the divide set off by a since rescinded agreement with Enbridge is still front and center in Hazelton.
In the strongest showing of unity in some time, 52 of the 65 head simgiigyet (chiefs) of the four clans of Gitxsan people gathered at the The Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre to sign a letter written to Christy Clark, premier of British Columbia.
The letter responds to a letter, dated Feb. 13, 2012, received by the Office of the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs from Mary Polak, B.C.’s minister of aboriginal relations and reconciliation which called into question the validity of the Gitxsan Treaty Society as the true representative of the Gitxsan people.
“The letter indicates they don’t understand who we are,” Gwanns (Bev Clifton Percival) said in her opening remarks.
Wii Elast (Jim Angus) noted the letter from the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations is contrary to the authority of the blanket, which is a combination of the relationship between a head chief and his house and the relationship of that house to the land.
“This is part of our ayookw (laws) and related to how we make decisions,” Elast explained.
“It has never changed.”
The letter from Polak was sent following comments by a Supreme Court Justice regarding the Gitxsan Treaty Society’s adherence to provincial regulations set out in Section 85 of the Societies Act on the establishment and proper procedures attached to designation as a society.
The judge questioned the legality of the board of directors of the GTS and the manner in which they were appointed to the board, which run contrary to the regulations surrounding a society.
Based on those comments, Polak questioned if the GTS had legal authority to negotiate a Long Term Forestry agreement with the Ministry of Forests, following the expiration of the 2006 Short Term Forestry Agreement in 2010.
In their letter to Premier Clark, the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs re-enforce their position concerning negotiations of the Long Term Forestry Agreement.
“The position that our Chief Negotiator stated on October 28 and November 28 is what we stand by,” the letter reads.
“There will be no forest activity on Gitxsan lands until a Long Term Forest Agreement has been formalized.”
Although the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs showed solidarity in the signing of the letter to B.C. premier Clark, the divide among the Gitxsan is still evident.
Absent from the letter signing ceremony in Smithers, were representative from the Gitxsan Unity Movement, who continue to blockade the offices of the Gitxsan Treaty Society.
“We need consensus, “ Elast said.
“They [GUM] have not responded to invitations.”
The blockade, was originally established following the announcement that Treaty officer and Hereditary Chief Elmer Derrick had entered into a partnership with Enbridge on the Northern Gateway project on behalf of the Gitxsan.
The mission of GUM, which is an entirely volunteer driven group, is, “to strive for accountability, transparency and to return the authority and jurisdiction to it’s rightful place, the Gitxsan Simgigyet (Chiefs) and the Gitxsan Nation,” Chief Larry Patsey states.
Although the agreement has since been rescinded, the conflict continues.
“The Enbridge deal was just one symptom of a much larger problem,” Patsey explained.
“The Gitxsan Treaty Society, who sometimes operate as the ‘Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs’ or the ‘Gitxsan Chiefs,’ is an illegal society that has been ordered suspended by a vast majority of the actual Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs.”
When the Enbridge agreement was signed, 51 of the 65 Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs signed declarations firing senior staff and suspending the GTS pending an investigation, Patsey added.
Monday’s letter signing ceremony, reverses those allegiances.
Despite two decisions in B.C. Supreme Court, including a decision March 7, saying the blockade of the GTS office is illegal, the GUM have remained steadfast in their resolve to bring about change, including the dismantling of the GTS.