Gitxsan Chiefs' Treaty Office Taken Over in Enbridge Pipeline Protest

GORDON HOEKSTRA
Ottawa Citizen
December 6, 2011


VANCOUVER — Gitxsan First Nation opponents of their band's ownership deal with Enbridge Inc. on the controversial $5.5-billion Northern Gateway oil pipeline have taken over their chiefs' treaty office in the northwest B.C. town of Hazelton.

The doors of the office were boarded up with plywood on Monday evening after the paid negotiators of the deal refused to step down, Gitxsan hereditary chief Larry Patsey said Tuesday.

Last Friday, Enbridge and another hereditary chief, Elmer Derrick, the Gitxsan's chief treaty negotiator, announced the aboriginal community had signed on as an an ownership partner in the embattled pipeline project.

That announcement sparked outrage among leaders and members of the impoverished community who say the deal was made without their support or consultation.

The building that houses the Gitxsan Treaty Office is being guarded in shifts by Gitxsan men, said Patsey.

The staff have not tried to return to work, said Patsey.

The opponents have set up a task force to map out their next steps, which include shutting down the treaty office permanently.

There was no answer to calls to the treaty office Tuesday afternoon

After a series of emergency meetings over the weekend, Gitxsan hereditary chiefs and members angered over the deal they claim they knew nothing about, called on the negotiators to step down.

The deal will provide the Gitxsan an ownership stake in the pipeline that is anticipated to provide $7 million over the next 30 years.

Opponents say the $7 million will not compensate for the effects of an oil spill.

The negotiators declined to step down because that's a board decision of the society, Gordon Sebastian, the treaty society's executive director, has said.

The dispute hinges on the role of the Gitxsan's traditional governance model that vests decision-making power in hereditary chiefs who head up 65 family houses.

Derrick and Sebastian say the deal was done properly with the support of the traditional family system.

But other Gitxsan leaders said the decision on Enbridge did not follow traditional law.

The Northern Gateway project's route is south of the southern border of the Hazelton, B.C.-based First Nation's 33,000 square kilometres of territory.

The line would pass by six streams that flow into Babine Lake, a vital resource to the Gitxsan.

The 1,170-kilometre Northern Gateway pipeline is meant to open up new markets in Asia for crude from the Alberta oilsands, moving bitumen from Bruderheim, Alta., near Edmonton, to Kitimat on the B.C. coast.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly defended the importance of Canada finding a way to get oilsands bitumen to Asian markets in the wake of the Obama administration's decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S.

"It is not in this country's interests that we are a captive supplier of the United States of energy products, especially when we see some of the politics that are going on south of the border," Harper told reporters.

In an interview with Postmedia News last week, Enbridge's CEO Pat Daniel predicted that at least 30 of the 45 First Nations along the pipeline route will have deals with Enbridge by next June. And he said he hopes all 45 will be onside by 2013, when Enbridge hopes to get regulatory approval to start a project that is set to be completed by late 2017.

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