Three Gitxsan hereditary chiefs have announced the prohibition of all natural-gas pipeline projects on a territory near Hazelton, adding to the chorus of Gitxsan chiefs taking action to defend their land.
The Luutkudziiwus, Xsim Wits'iin and Noola hereditary chiefs of the Gitxsan First Nation issued formal notice to the B.C. government last week. They have also made their intentions known to TransCanada Corp., as they say the prohibition pertains specifically to the corporation's proposed Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline, which would cross the territory, called Madii Lii, for about 32 kilometres from Suskwa Pass to the Shegunia River.
Richard Wright, a spokesman for the house of Luutkudziiwus, said the notice is largely in response to the government's continuing negotiations with the Gitxsan Treaty Society (GTS) through the Gitxsan Development Corp. The house group is part of a lawsuit aimed at challenging the legitimacy of the GTS; the plaintiffs say the society – which negotiates treaty agreements with the B.C. Treaty Commission and Crowns – has no right to speak for all Gitxsan people.
By announcing the prohibition, the house of Luutkudziiwus is taking a stand for its own territory, Mr. Wright said. The three hereditary chiefs are not interested in negotiating; they are opposed to all pipeline projects outright.
"There are potential environmental concerns, like if the pipe ever burst the spills would come down either creeks or the Suskwa River and flow into the Bulkley River, which ultimately ends in the Skeena River," Mr. Wright said. "It would kill off all the salmon we use for sustenance. We have to manage our wildlife, our water, our salmon."
Luutkudziiwus house members and other volunteers are in the process of building a permanent Madii Lii base camp east of New Hazelton, where members plan on developing a territorial management plan. When complete, the base camp will block off Suskwa Forest Service Road, Mr. Wright said.
In July, a group comprising eight Gitxsan hereditary chiefs aligned with the GTS issued an eviction notice to Canadian National Railway, sports fishers and loggers, instructing they cease activities and vacate Gitxsan territory by Aug. 4 unless the Crowns received expressed consent from the Gitxsan First Nation. That action was spurred by a touchy overlap claim: The Gitxsan say that in negotiating treaty agreements with the Kitselas and Kitsumkalum bands, which belong to the Tsimshian First Nation, the B.C. government illegally gave away pieces of Gitxsan land.
After the deadline passed, those Gitxsan chiefs threatened a blockade of the railway running through their territory. In response, CN Rail applied for, and received, an injunction from the B.C. Supreme Court barring anyone from trespassing on to the railway between Smithers and Terrace, or otherwise physically obstructing CN's train operations in the corridor. The company said there were no interruptions.
Those Gitxsan chiefs have since extended the eviction deadline to Sept. 16, pending what they call "critical discussions" between the province and the Kitselas and Kitsumklaum bands.
The Gitxsan are bolstered by a landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling, handed down in June, that underscored the aboriginal title and rights of the Tsilhqot'in First Nation.
TransCanada did not make anyone available for an interview. Instead, spokesman Davis Sheremata provided an e-mailed statement saying the corporation is aware of the matter, maintains a "good working relationship" with the Gitxsan First Nation and will continue discussions with hereditary chiefs affected by the PRGT project. (Mr. Wright, meanwhile, says pipeline development is not up for discussion.)
John Rustad, B.C. Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, was not available for an interview either. In an e-mailed statement, a spokesman said the ministry "is committed to discussing the development of the Liquefied Natural Gas industry with First Nations and Aboriginal organizations."