by Frank Larue
Liberal leader Christie Clark has done everything possible to push through the LNG projects, whereas native leaders have been reluctant to approve the LNG projects because of environmental concerns. However, not all native leaders were against LNG. Nine hereditary Gitxsan chiefs have given approval to this project in writing, which has shocked and angered many Gitxsan members who were not included in the decision.
“No individual hereditary chief can make such a decision because the Gitxsan Nation is a collective of all members,” Gitxsan member, and consultant for Aboriginal rights, Neil John Sterrit told the media. “The hereditary chiefs act for all members. They should all be involved in any decision that binds the nation, which this does.”
The chiefs who signed the agreement were promised $6 million for their approval. The money was put in a fund which was to be used for projects approved by the band. Although, many of the members disagree with the decision to approve the LNG project. They want no part of the money, which they see as a form of bribery.
“It was done secretly,” Sterrit told the Vancouver Sun. “It was done so people like me would not know. Not just me, but a lot of people who were opposed to the way things operate.”
Earl Muldoon is the 80-year old hereditary chief known as Dulgamuukw, a symbolic ancestral chief name passed down from generation-to-generation of Gitxsan people. He is famous for the historic court case that confirmed Aboriginal title had not been extinguished by any colonial government. “It’s a name that’s greatly respected. We’ve earned respect for it,” Muldoon told the Vancouver Sun. He feels he has done no wrong.
Gordon Sebastian – also a hereditary chief who signed the letter of approval – stated the chiefs went through an extensive four year process. This involved 45 meetings with PRGT, the provincial government, industry experts, and those who were opposed to the project. “So what we did over four years is we evaluated everything,” says Sebastian. “The environment. The birds. The animals. I did all that stuff. I took it all in consideration. Me as well as the other 10 chiefs. We did all that, and we did it jointly.”
Muldoon has not benefitted from the money, it was deposited in a band trust fund. “I had members phone me and say they want $10,000, they want $20,000. Kind of a blackmail type of thing. We never spent any of the money. We didn’t want to deal with that type of method. It’s just sitting in the pot, that’s all. I had discussions with my family. We decided we have to go with progress.”
On the flip-side, a group of Gitxsan chiefs known as the United Gitxsan is opposed to any gas pipeline because of environmental concerns. “We’re not in favour of this at all,” spokesman Norm Stephens told the media. In an email, the pipeline administration provides the source of the problem: “TransCanada has a robust engagement policy that guides all of our interactions. PRGT has been able to sign benefit agreements with 13 First Nations along the route. This demonstrates that our approach works.”
Neither side is backing down, so we can expect a roadblock for the pipeline until everyone agrees. This will not happen in the foreseeable future. The LNG companies will not give up, there is too much money at stake; but the Gitxsan are a stubborn group, and solving their internal administrative problems will have to happen before any agreement can exist.