New Hazelton RCMP was onsite at the Kispiox Hall this morning to supervise a protest against an LNG information session held by the provincial government and the Gitxsan Development Corporation.
Today’s presentation was one of two organized by the B.C. government and the GDC, a Gitxsan enterprise company.
The session was led by Gordon Wilson, an LNG advocate for the province’s LNG-Buy BC program aimed at connecting proponents with B.C. companies.
A second presentation tomorrow will be by Alex Grzybowski from mediation company Pacific Resolutions.
According to its website, Pacific Resolutions specializes in “engaging adversaries in negotiations that overcome apparently intractable and highly conflicted situations, particularly in the areas of land and water use and ownership”.
Representatives from the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission will also attend the presentations.
Richard Wright, who was leading the protest, said about 30 LNG opponents were at the hall this morning.
He said the group had abandoned a plan to block entry to the meeting because hereditary chiefs were already inside.
Instead, he said the protestors commandeered the microphone to voice their concerns about LNG.
“It was the hereditary chiefs that spoke and they were talking about the water, the fish, how it’s embarrassing that a few of the Gitxsan chiefs are participating in the pipeline discussions and negotiations,” he said.
Wright is a spokesperson for the Madii Lii protest camp on the Suskwa Forest Service Road, which blocks access to the Luutkudziiwus House territory where TransCanada’s proposed Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Pipeline would cross.
Luutkudziiwus was among a group of Gitxsan traditional houses called wilps which took legal action collectively against the Gitxsan Treaty Society, claiming the GTS does not have the authority to speak on behalf of all wilps in its negotiations with the government.
In the case of Spookw vs. Gitxsan Treaty Society, the plaintiffs claimed that the GTS should be abandoned because it had not acted in the best interests of the Gitxsan people.
The case was dismissed by the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The court’s decision will be appealed at a hearing in Vancouver in December.
Wright said the protest was to highlight local opposition to the provincial government’s approach to negotiating with the Gitxsan First Nation through the GDC and the affiliated Gitxsan Treaty Society.
“The Gitxsan are tired of it and are going to be standing up and getting in their face every opportunity we get,” he said.
“Pipelines are on the face of it for sure but there’s a lot of underlying issues and that is the oppressive approach of the provincial government continuously pushing the chiefs, the house groups, everyone aside.”
Speaking to The Interior News on Tuesday, GDC chief executive Rick Connors said the presentations were being held to offer more transparency about the specifics of GDC negotiations.
“All along the Gitxsan people have always requested transparency in this type of process where there is decision-making being done and it’s being done, apparently from everybody outside looking in, behind closed doors,” he said.
“Well this is the opportunity that the chiefs are providing now, an information session where they are going to be imparting some of that knowledge on people.”
Connors berated the opponents for trying to deny the Gitxsan community an opportunity to access information.
“We shouldn’t be stopping communication with our members, that’s the wrong thing to do so I believe that the band members and other Gitxsan members at large should hold [the protestors] accountable for the lack of transparency since they don’t allow it,” he said.
He said a lot of people who were opposed to LNG pipelines on Gitxsan territory lacked knowledge about the projects.
“I believe that the people that are against it are against it because they lack knowledge and they lack the clarity as to what it is the project has to offer,” he said.
“What better way to clarify than to give them the facts.”
The Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation said in a statement it recognized the right of Canadians to engage in peaceful protests.
“We believe negotiation, not confrontation, is the best way to resolve issues that concern asserted Aboriginal rights and title,” a Ministry spokesperson said.