GUEST VIEW: Gitxsan solution in peace, truth and humility

Neil Sterritt outlines the path to a resolution among Gitxsan.

Justice McEwan’s decision in the Gitxsan Treaty Society Act case (Section 85) states the Gitxsan Treaty Society (“GTS”) has major governance and accountability problems in terms of the Society Act, its constitution and bylaws, and those problems need to be fixed before the GTS can move on.

The judge rejected what the Board of the GTS proposed, and told it go back to the drawing board.

Outsiders look to the Gitxsan people to be organized and represented by some credible body. From their perspective, the GTS has lost credibility. Why would anyone want to negotiate with a GTS that has been undressed in court?

With regard to a new or revised Gitxsan umbrella body, Justice McEwan put the ball squarely in our court and we need to act.

I suggest we begin by looking to values to in our quest for a new beginning.

Around 1979, the late Mary Johnson explained, “peace, truth and humility,” describe qualities of a hereditary chief.  We later used Mary’s words as the theme for a Gitxsan – Wet’suwet’en Tribal Council (“GWTC”) Annual General Meeting.

Given Mary Johnson’s teachings, what has the GTS learned from the Enbridge fiasco, and Justice McEwan’s decision?

Where is the truth, when will there be peace among us, and where is the humility?  What relevance does this have for the situation we find ourselves in today?

A few years ago, I asked a respected leader what the difference is between how the GWTC functioned in comparison to the GTS.  He said, “Back then, anyone with a good idea was welcome to participate, that’s not the case today.”

In short, the GWTC was inclusive, while the GTS operates as an exclusive club. This flies in the face of the 1997 Supreme Court decision in Delgamuukw, which held that aboriginal title is a communal right: an individual cannot hold aboriginal title.

This means the Gitxsan community as a whole must make the decisions about land and other important matters, not just the Hereditary Chiefs.

Thus, we need a new beginning and we likely need an external mediator to assist us in finding it.

The Gitxsan must decide whether they want to be represented by a body like the GTS, and if so, how that body should be organized, effective and accountable.

To move forward, the Gitxsan people must answer the following question:  How should the structure and governance of the GTS, particularly the membership and directors, be changed, to ensure the GTS and all its components are accountable and effective?

This is not about the GTS and it’s not about the hereditary chiefs.  It’s about the Gitxsan Nation, and adherence to proven governance principles, along with the Gitxsan values of peace, truth and humility.

This must be the ultimate goal of all Gitxsan people.

 

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