The B.C. government has written directly to about 60 hereditary chiefs of the Gitxsan First Nation, outlining a multimillion-dollar gas-pipeline benefits deal.
In the letter, the government offers the Gitxsan about $12-million, plus a signing bonus of over $2-million, if it will allow two pipelines to cross territorial lands.
"The offer takes into consideration the Westcoast Connector Gas Transmission Project and the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project," states the letter from Laurel Nash, chief negotiator for the lands branch of the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.
It offers the First Nation a payment of $6.26-million for the Westcoast Connector and $5.81-million for the Prince Rupert gas line. It proposes an additional $2.4-million payment if a deal is signed by Sept. 30. The bonus declines to $1.81-million if the signing doesn't take place until Dec. 31 and it drops to $1.2-million if it isn't signed until March 31, 2015.
The letter, which went to all of the Gitxsan hereditary chiefs, for the first time provides details on the government's financial strategy to facilitate gas pipelines. The government is trying to negotiate with more than 30 bands on gas-pipeline routes.
"The funding was derived through a formula process assessing the number of kilometres the pipes would run through the territory and also taking into consideration [the] population of the Gitxsan Nation," wrote Ms. Nash. "As the financial component is formula-based along the entire potential natural gas pipelines, it is not negotiable."
In addition to the pipeline benefits, the letter states the government will negotiate a long-term forestry agreement, will work with the band to develop a regional environmental stewardship deal and will provide greater access to skills training for band members.
The proposal was sent June 25, just days after the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs, which are part of the Gitxsan Treaty Society, announced all negotiations with the government had reached an impasse.
Bev Clifton Percival, a negotiator for the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs, didn't know about the letter until contacted by The Globe and Mail last week.
She said the B.C. government had been negotiating with the Gitxsan Treaty Society through the Gitxsan Development Corp.
But those talks were stopped June 22 to protest a treaty settlement the government had made, which gave some land claimed by the Gitxsan to the neighbouring Kitselas and Kitsumkalum bands.
Ms. Clifton Percival – whose group last week "evicted" logging, mining and sports fishing from Gitxsan territory to demand a bigger share of resource activities – accused the government of acting in bad faith by trying to go around the Gitxsan Treaty Society and resume talks directly with chiefs.
But John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, said the letter is simply an attempt "to engage with the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs" who are the decision makers in the community.
"We continue some dialogue with them. Of course there are other issues at play with the Gitxsan. We're in the process right now of finding a way to bring the adjacent nations together … to try to resolve that particular issue," said Mr. Rustad in a reference to the touchy Kitselas and Kitsumkalum overlap claim.
Bill Blackwater Sr., one of the Gitxsan hereditary chiefs who got the letter, said he thought the government wrote directly to chiefs because it couldn't deal with the Gitxsan Treaty Society.
He described the treaty society as an organization "that just doesn't work" and he said it is out of touch with the Gitxsan population.
"What's happened with the Gitxsan Nation is it's completely divided," he said. "Nobody knows what's going on. This has to change."