Many Gitxsan First Nation people and their supporters spent their Christmas holidays at the blockade outside of the Gitxsan Treaty Office (GTO) in New Hazelton, BC. On December 5, 2011, after consultation with their clan members, Chiefs and members converged on the Gitxsan Chief’s Office in response against a deal signed on December 2nd with Enbridge in support of the controversial Northern Gateway Project by hereditary Chief Elmer Derrick, a negotiator with the GTO. The deal provides the Gitxsan with an equity stake in the pipeline project that could be worth $7 million (€5.3 million) over the life of the project.
A coalition of Gitxsan hereditary leaders and band councils representing 45 Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs (two thirds of the Hereditary Chiefs) have stated that “Elmer Derrick and the Gitxsan Treaty Society/Gitxsan Economic Development Corp. do not speak for all Gitxsan. The Gitxsan people had no knowledge of the proposed agreement nor were they consulted.”
The coalition has signed a declaration stating that the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Agreement is null and void, the Gitxsan Treaty Society must cease operations and be shut down and the former Executive Director Gordon Sebastian, former Chief Negotiator Chief Elmer Derrick and Negotiator Beverly Percival are terminated. The representatives say that not only were the communities not consulted but the Environmental Review Process is not yet complete as community hearings are being held in January. Preliminary results of an online poll conducted by the Gitxsan Chiefs show that over 90% of Gitxsan are against the proposed pipeline and that almost 100% are against the Gitxsan-Enbridge deal.
In response to the public outcry, Derrick said it was the responsibility of hereditary chiefs to inform their houses about the project and that he was within his power to sign the deal. However, Percival said the treaty office board of directors did not authorize the agreement, and she did not know Derrick was going to form a partnership with Enbridge on the Gitxsan’s behalf. The GTS filed an injunction with the BC Supreme Court on December 7th, which forbids some hereditary chiefs from trespassing on the GTS. The RCMP have not yet enforced the injunction.
The Gitxsan dispute underscores rifts among the Gitxsan, as knowledge of the signed Agreement was only obtained through media, much like the Gitxsan Alternative Governance Model of May 2008, the subject matter of litigation in Spookw vs. Gitxsan Treaty Society which claimed that the GTS was unaccountable and should not have the right to represent the nation in treaty talks.
The Lake Babine Nation is demanding an apology from the GTO for signing an agreement with Enbridge that could impact the Lake Babine Nation’s lands and resources without first consulting the Lake Babine Nation. “The pipeline will not cross Gitxsan territory. They will not bear any of the risks or the costs. It is us, along with the other Nations through whose territories the tar sands oil will be transported, who will suffer the consequences,” says Chief Wilf Adam.
A website has been formed called http://gitxsanagainstenbridge.com where updates, photos and video footage can be found.
Media coverage of the Gitxsan/Enbridge controversy has been varied. A historic declaration by over 130 First Nations opposing the Enbridge pipeline was relegated to the BC Business section in the Vancouver Sun but when a First Nation seemed to have signed on to the deal it garners front page headlines. The controversy continues.
Susan MacVittie works with World Community Development Education Society in the Comox Valley, Canada. Pipeline Deal Leads to Gitxsan Occupy was previously printed in the Watershed Sentinel, the independent voice for environmental news in British Columbia.