By Lloyd Dolha
A proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline deal with the Gitxan of northern British Columbia has ignited a firestorm of controversy amongst the complex clan structure of the First Nation. On Friday, December 2nd, Gitxan Treaty Office (GTO) chief negotiator, hereditary chief Elmer Derrick and an Enbridge official announced Gitxan support for the $5.5 billion project through the company’s Aboriginal Economic Opportunities Package. The deal would provide the Gitxan about $7 million over 30 years. However, other Gitxan hereditary chiefs spoke out against the agreement, saying the majority of the Gitxan people were largely unaware of Derrick’s undertakings with the company.
The Gitxan deal was announced a day after 130 other First Nations announced that they had formed an “unbroken wall of opposition,” to the pipeline. Following a number of emergency meetings of Gitxan clans, including an All Clans gathering Sunday evening, the hereditary chiefs sent out another press release on Monday stating that Friday’s announcement of an agreement was not sanctioned by the chiefs, as it did not follow traditional protocols that dictate important decisions made by the 65 family or clan houses which constitute their traditional governance structure and that the chief negotiator and two other staff members no longer represented the Gitxan. “This is a turning point in our Gitxan history,” stated the hereditary chiefs, “The Enbridge pipeline holds no future for our children.”
Hereditary chief Norman Stephens said that as many as 100 people dressed in traditional regalia marched to the GTO office and demanded the resignations of Derrick, executive director Gordon Sebastian, and negotiator Beverly Clifton Percival. The trio refused to step down saying it was a decision of the board of directors of the society to dismiss them. Derrick and Sebastian said the agreement was reached properly as the hereditary chiefs had already signed a cooperation agreement with Enbridge in 2009 and the newer agreement was merely an extension of that.
The announcement triggered a quick response from a number of neighbouring First Nations who fiercely oppose the project. Chief Wilfred Adams of the Lake Babine First Nation, who claim traditional territory around Burns Lake, demanded a formal apology from the Gitxan. Chief Adam pointed out that the proposed pipeline does not even pass through Gitxan traditional territory and that all the risks of potential oil spills will be borne by other First Nations, such as Lake Babine. “We don’t care whatever agreement they sign within their own territory,” said Chief Adam. “But what they signed on, it will not go through their territory. It is us, along with other Nations through whose territories the tarsands oil will be transported, who will suffer the consequences.” Adams said the Lake Babine had recently walked away from talks with Enbridge over safety concerns.