By Roy L Hales
It has been fourteen months since the Luutkudziiwus chiefs declared their land closed to all LNG traffic and other unauthorized industrial activity. Hereditary Chief Nola says Madii Lii camp was built to “stop the injustice that is being perpetrated on our people.” In the face of aggressive actions spearheaded by the government of British Columbia, the house of Luuktkudziiwus needed to demonstrate their ownership of Madii Lii.
On a 900 kilometre Long Pipeline
A 900 kilometre long pipeline, from Hudson’s Hope to the proposed LNG terminal on Lelu Island, is part of Premier Christy Clark’s vision for British Columbia’s prosperity.
To the house of Luuktkudziiwus, it represents a threat to their watershed, the salmon that has sustained them for generations and their culture.
The focal point of their struggle is the 32 kilometre segment of the proposed pipeline that crosses the house of Luuktkudziiwus’ ancestral territory of Madii Lii.
“The governments are trying to tell us what our rights are, and what I am telling them is they do not have the right to tell me what my rights are,” said Hereditary Chief Noola of Madii Lii Territory of the Gitxsan Nation.
Bypassing The House Of Luuktkudziiwus
Luutkudziiwus spokesperson Richard Wright added that the courts recognize their title, “We are original plaintiffs in the Delgamuukw court case (1997) and it was pretty clear that the (Gitxsan) house groups own the land and the resources.”
However the provincial government directed the Oil and Gas Commission (OGC), the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) and Trans Canada to bypass the House of Luutkudziiwus and consult with a third part, the Gitxsan Development Corporation.
Wright said that in the beginning, the two government ministries did speak with the House of Luutkudziiwus. That lasted for a “few weeks”
“Then we started getting emails from the OGC and EA. They said they had been directed by the provincial government to deal with the Gitxsan Development Corporation as they will be representing our interests and our rights and responding on our behalf.”
“That was totally unacceptable to us. The Gitxsan Development Corporation does not have a mandate. They don’t have jurisdiction. They don’t have authority over our land and our resources and we are not giving them permission to represent us in any form. When we wanted to be consulted on this pipeline, we were essentially pushed aside and forced into a position (where we had ) to assume full control over our lands and resources,” said Wright.
Their Own Society
He added, “The Government said they cannot negotiate with all 62 house groups, so we created our own society for them to negotiate with. Two thirds of the Gitxsan house groups have signed up for it. That’s the only way we are going to know what is being proposed for our land. It gives us an opportunity to consult, but the Government refuses to work with us.”
What The Government Said
The ECOreport asked both the province’s Oil and Gas Commission and Ministry of Environment whether they attempted to bypass the House of Luutkudziiwus and negotiate with a third party. These Government Ministries refused to give a direct answer and instead they emailed the following statement:
“The Province has made significant efforts to consult with First Nations on the project and has ensured, to the fullest extent possible, that potential impacts to Aboriginal interests have been avoided, mitigated, or otherwise accommodated.”
“The problem is much bigger than the pipeline issue itself, there is a lot of social injustice,” said Wright.
Trying To Get Out Of The Treaty Process
The House of Luutkudziiwus is one of four house groups:
” … trying to get out of a treaty process that we never signed up for to begin with. We are being held hostage to a process that would extinguish our aboriginal rights and title to the land.
“The BC treaty Commission are holders of the process. If you look at the treaty process, it is all laid out for you already. It is mapped out. There is guidelines. There is expectations.
“If you look at the Gitxsan Treaty Society, for example they have 26 registered members. Those are the only people that can vote in that whole society. They have closed door AGMs and they get all this money from the Federal and Provincial to negotiate away our aboriginal rights and our title to the lands. We don’t have a say in it until the very end when it comes time to vote, after they have done an agreement in principle. The we get to vote on whether we accept it, or we don’t.
The Luutkudziiwus Take Control
The house of Luutkudziiwus took control of Madii Lii on Aug. 26, 2014. They told a Trans Canada crew that was surveying for the pipeline, and doing right-of-way work on the road, to leave. They have not come back.
The Government of British Columbia is being taken to court over its lack of consultation, the inadequate baseline information presented, and “the weak and subjective impact assessment.”
“We are more than likely going to get an order to be consulted. We have already developed the framework for consultation and what we want to be consulted on. So we’re even coming to the table with the solution,” said Wright.
“As a house group we know the hereditary structure of the chiefs, the Wilp chiefs, the matriarchs, the people with high names within our territories. We are going to work on internal governance. That is this person does this, that person does that, referrals come here. We have to have a set-up somewhat like a business to deal with government. We are also working towards a territorial management plan. That will give us a good baseline on what our land can accommodate and what it can not. It will give us the tools that we need to make decisions based on our land and our house groups needs.”
All images taken from the website with permission of the House of Luutkudziiwus.