The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) has announced its support for the Gitanyow in a recent territorial dispute with the Nisga’a Nation.
On July 26, a Gitanyow traditional house group was given a 24-hour notice by the RCMP on behalf of the Nisga’a Lisims Government (NLG) to vacate a fishing site by the Nass River.
The notice was also publicly released by the NLG on their website and Facebook with photos, stating that alleged trespassers were “non-Nisga’a individuals conducting unauthorized activities on Nisga’a Lands” that violate the Nisga’a Land Act.
The UBCIC is submitting a court application to the BC Court of Appeal to intervene in what they call a critical case, as the land in dispute has been shared for generations under traditional First Nations’ law until the signing of the Nisga’a treaty.
“The case concerns the Crown’s obligations to the Gitanyow, whose rights and livelihoods were being imperiled by provisions of the Nisga’a Final Agreement (1999),” reads the UBCIC press release. “The UBCIC firmly opposes any notion that would treat Aboriginal title and rights unequally among Indigenous groups, namely those that have concluded a treaty and those that have not.”
The release adds this is against Canada’s Constitution and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Glen Williams, president for the Gitanyow hereditary chiefs, says their people have a right to access the site, where they are fishing and conducting scientific studies approved by the DFO, and have no intent to leave.
“The house group that’s there now with their family has been there for centuries and based on traditional model, really enjoying their Aboriginal rights to that area and to be labeled as trespassers under white man law is really insulting. It’s a violation of our traditional law as well,” says Williams.
“It’s totally wrong, treaty rights don’t trump Aboriginal rights… one of the chiefs stated that it’s being used to distract their own members from difficulties that they may be having internally amongst themselves.”
Earlier this week, a community meeting was held at the Gitwangak community hall to discuss the matter with Gitanyow and supporting members.
Williams says although they plan on keeping things peaceful, they want the government to take notice how the Nisga’a treaty has negatively impacted the Gitanyow people and economy.
“They (governments) created the problem when they knew of the serious impact to Gitanyow and they need to come and begin to implement the United Nations Declaration,” says Williams. “How do we restore and correct the wrongs that they have created here? They can’t just sit back and watch Indians fight.”
The Nisga’a Lisims Government has not yet responded to the Terrace Standard’s request for an interview.