Gitxsan protesters opposed to the $5.5-billion pipeline from Alberta to the port of Kitimat, B.C., celebrated Christmas on the picket line with a dinner of turkey, ham stuffing and potatoes.
But the cheery Christmas spirit did nothing to ease tensions within the Gitxsan First Nation over a round-the-clock blockade intended to force three people who were involved in a recent show of support for the controversial Northern Gateway Project to leave their jobs.
As the blockade enters its fourth week, Norman Stephens, a spokesman for the protesters, said Monday the barricades will not come down until three employees of the Gitxsan Treaty Office hand over their keys to the office and their control over its funds. The protesters say employees backed the pipeline without receiving authorization from the Gitxsan people.
Mr. Stephens dismissed a proposal to resolve the confrontation by allowing Gitxsan’s hereditary chiefs to hear all the views and to discuss the issues until a consensus is reached.
“There’s nothing to discuss,” Mr. Stephens said Monday in an interview from Hagwilget, 140 kilometres northeast of Terrace.
Forty-five of the 65 hereditary chiefs have already signed statements in support of the protest, he said. In his view, “[the negotiators]have been fired. They just have not turned in their keys.”
However, Beverley Clifton Percival, one of three people targeted by the protesters, indicated she had no intention of complying with their demands. The protesters are “a small group of unhappy people who are very loud,” she said in an interview.
The Gitxsan need to sit down and talk, Ms. Percival said.
“I think that we all need to be communicating, we want to speak both to Enbridge and the protesters,” she said. “This should be discussed according to our laws, in a respectful way, and we should talk until we come to a resolution. Consensus building is part of our society.” She added: “But they do not want to talk to us.”
The barricades went up on Dec. 5, three days after hereditary Chief Elmer Derrick, a negotiator with the Gitxsan Treaty Office, announced that the first nation had decided to take an ownership stake in the controversial 1,177-kilometre pipeline. The Gitxsan share was expected to deliver at least $7-million in net profit, Enbridge stated.
Enbridge has said Mr. Derrick represented the consensus view of a majority of the Gitxsan’s traditional leadership and was recognized as an authoritative voice of his people. Dozens of native bands along the pipeline route have spoken out against the project. Gitxsan was the first to publicly announce a partnership with Enbridge.
Mr. Stephens said protesters have been on the picket line through -10 temperatures, protected from the weather by tarps and warmed by a fire in a barrel. From the first day, non-aboriginal people opposed to the pipeline have been showing their support for the protesters, he said.
A court injunction on Dec. 7 intended to close down the blockade had no effect, Mr. Stephens said. “I’m in contact with the RCMP regularly and the RCMP do not want to enforce the injunction,” he said. “They consider this to be an internal problem for the Gitxsan.”
The closest RCMP detachment, located in Terrace, was closed Monday to non-emergency calls.
The protesters are demanding three people – Ms. Percival, Mr. Derrick and treaty office executive director Gordon Sebastian – leave their jobs and the treaty office be closed. Treaty office employees spoke out in support of Mr. Derrick for two weeks and then tried to distance themselves from his actions, he said.
But Ms. Percival said the treaty office was not party to the Enbridge deal or involved in discussions with Enbridge. The treaty office board of directors did not authorize the agreement, and she did not know Mr. Derrick was going to form a partnership with Enbridge on the Gitxsan’s behalf, she said.
For the new year, she hoped that discussions could be held until a resolution has been reached that meets concerns raised by all sides. “We should all step back and go at this with cooler heads and be reasonable,” Ms. Percival said.