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Press Releases

Government of BC Withdraws Participation On Fishing Crisis Talks, Perpetuating Cultural Genocide

 Chiefs Ban Non-Indigenous Fishers from Accessing Gitxsan Fishing Areas Indefinitely

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

HAZELTON, BC – APRIL 23, 2021 After three years of collaboration on a Gitxsan-led crisis management team with Hereditary Chiefs, the Province of BC is backing away from this critically important initiative. Hereditary Chiefs are making progress in what has been a multi-year effort to organize a diverse nation working hard to overcome many issues brought about by the colonial infringement on their ‘lax yip’ traditional territory. Chiefs are calling on the BC government to rethink its decision:

“It is irresponsible that in an era of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA), where the Province cites ‘an increasing commitment to reconciliation,’ that it would abandon the Gitxsan Huwilp Government in their efforts to self-govern according to their history, laws, and culture.” said the taskforce Chairperson, Gwiiyeehl Brian Williams.

“DRIPA promises a path forward to provide “clarity and predictability” but BC’s decision to step away from the table is a confusing act of disengagement for the 58 Hereditary Chiefs that make up the Huwilp Government.”

Chiefs were notified of the withdrawal at the first Crisis Management Team meeting in over a year due to Covid-19, on April 20, 2021, with provincial representatives citing “capacity” issues as to the reason why efforts to work with the Chiefs would be discontinued. The CMT is one of three Gitxsan Government committees, and its main focus is to educate all levels of government on jurisdiction within the traditional fishing areas, trespass and other Gitxsan traditional laws, working to overcome threats to the Gitxsan way of life and the Nation’s ability to be sustainable.

“Issuing fish permits is big business for BC’s economy and it seems that prioritizing respectful relationships and adhering to traditional First Nation laws is not on the top of the list. These committees are formed so we have government to government relationships. Like any government, we have work to do with our people. The Gitxsan Huwilp Government has participation from 58 Head Chiefs with the expectation that this number will grow and the provincial government needs to recognize our group as decision makers,” says Chief Moolxhan Norman Moore.

BC’s move comes one month after Hereditary Chiefs met with the newly elected Nathan Cullen, Minister of State for Lands and Natural Resource Operations, through the efforts of another Huwilp Government committee, known as the Intergovernmental Relations Committee. So far, the Chief’s request for a response to their proposed letter of engagement – how to work together to advance truth and reconciliation for the Gitxsan – has been ignored by Cullen’s office.

The Huwilp Government and its committees are committed to addressing the issues in collaboration with all stakeholders. Gitxsan Huwilp Government / CMT navigate indigenous land issues in harmony and working towards respecting the traditional laws of the Gitxsan First Nation. The diverse Gitxsan – made up of four clans divided by house groups called Wilps– is one of Canada’s only remaining indigenous groups still holding onto its pre-colonial governance structure, remaining unified in its heritage despite hundreds of years of opposition. 

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ABOUT THE GITXSAN

The diverse Gitxsan Nation, in Northern BC, is made up of four clans and House Groups called Huwilp led by Simgiigyet who hold the governance authority (Daxgyet). The traditional society is governed by a system of laws (Ayook) and oral histories (Adaakw), all carried out in feast hall (Lilliget).  The Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en people made history and headlines in 1997 when, on appeal, together they sought the first comprehensive account of aboriginal rights and title in Canada in the Delgamuukw court decision. The Gitxsan Nation covers 33,000 sq. km in Northwest BC; it is estimated that there are 14,000 people of Gitxsan heritage throughout the world.

MEDIA CONTACTS

Gwiiyeehl Brian Williams, Chair of Gigeenix (Up River Chiefs)
WORK: 250-842-8889 | EMAIL bwilliams@gitxsan.ca

Moolxhan Norman Moore, Member of the Gigeenix (Up River Chiefs)

WORK: 250-842-5335 | EMAIL gyelpp@gmail.com

Niisgimiinuu Robert Campbell (Member of Up River Chiefs)
WORK: 250-842-5199

 

MEDIA INTERVIEW AND INFORMATION COORDINATION
Allies in Action, Ruby Gill
WORK:  778-888-0514
EMAIL: alliesinactionmedia@gmail.com

 

NOTICE TO BC 

The Crisis Management Team is calling on the governments of Canada and BC to step up to honour their commitments to truth and reconciliation by working with the Gitxsan to address this matter of vital importance to our people.

  • Our laws have existed since time immemorial and COLONIAL STRUCTURES WERE FORCED ON OUR PEOPLE. Our laws were always in effect but were sidetracked with colonization. We are working on REVITALIZING.
  • According to the Gitxsan Ayook (traditional law) we do not play with our fish, so SPORTFISHING IS BREAKING OUR LAWS. In addition to this we’ve come to understand catch and release will cause higher fatality.
  • Permission MUST be granted by the Hereditary Chief on the Annat (fishing holes) prior to entering. This also applies to the Gitxsan people when they fish on another Annat.

THEREFORE:

  • The Gitxsan have announced INDEFINITE fishing closures on their territory for all non-indigenous people including sportfishing permit holders. Signs will be posted imminently.
  • Trespassers will be asked to leave or seek proper permissions and failure to do so will mean confiscation of gear / boats. Failure to leave will result in action taken by the Gitxsan Huwilp Government.
  • The CMT will closely monitor for environmental impacts on spawning habitats and would like to instill other protocols on decisions around cutting permits for clear cut logging.

GITXSAN DEMAND BC COME BACK TO THE COMMITTEES IN AN EXECUTIVE CAPACITY TO CONTINUE OUR PEACEFUL DIALOGUE.

 

About the Gitxsan

Working Towards an Equitable Canada: July 1 Statement

The problem of systemic racism was not created overnight.

Today as we celebrate the country that we call Canada, let’s remember that the formation of the constitution 153 years ago brought forth the bureaucratic persecution of indigenous people that has lasted for generations.

Through the injustice, indigenous people have fought for change both in momentous and revolutionary ways like the Delgamuukw court case that challenged the crown and paved the way for indigenous rights around the world. And through other actions that have resulted in policy or paradigm shifts like the Columbus Day Ships takeover.

But change has also been born through persistence over a century of dismissals, hardships, and opposition in daily, unseen ways.

Before the arrival of European immigrants, the Gitxsan ran an effective matrilineal society governed by its own set of laws that ensured a harmonious relationship with the land. Today, the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs are exercising their right to self-governance and claiming sovereignty over their traditional territory.

In 150 years from now, we believe that we can have a better country where ALL people have a fair chance to build a life of freedom and prosperity.

On this Canada Day, in a pivotal year for the world, let us commit to embrace awareness and actively pursue change together. Persecution is perpetuated by ignorance as much as prejudice.

TAKE ACTION

Sign up to watch the film that describes the Gitxsan Huwilp Government’s fight for change: https://mailchi.mp/0f7b81e2016e/film-sign-up

WATCH

In 1971 representatives of the Gitxsan & Wet’suwet’en peacefully boarded ships sent by the Spanish Government to North America to commemorate Columbus Day. They successfully set off a chain of events that has resulted in Indigenous People’s Day replacing Columbus Day in regions around the world. Individuals can change history.

News

First Nations Summit Notifies Chiefs: ‘Loan Forgiveness Now In Full Effect’

Gitxsan First Nation Can Now Move Forward with Reconciliation of Lands with Traditional Model without Looming Debt

STATEMENT ISSUED MAY 5, 2020

Hazelton, BC: Almost a year after the Federal Government released details about the loan forgiveness plan for treaty negotiations, the First Nations Summit Task Group has notified Chiefs, Leadership, and Negotiators that over $919 million related to land claims has been forgiven by royal assent effective March 31, 2020.

As of this date, loan forgiveness is in full effect having gone through all of the necessary legislative measures required.

“The federal government decision to remove land negotiation debt is the right one. Our people have been laboring for decades against the colonial system to protect our ancient land tenure, something that has come at a cost to us as individuals and as a Nation. Without this debt looming over our heads, we can begin to focus on how to improve economic conditions in our community and other matters of importance to the Gitxsan,” says Gordon Sebastian, Director of the Gitxsan Treaty Society (GTS).

“BC First Nations have been going through the process to resolve this matter with Canada and British Columbia and in doing so we’ve been driven to borrow money from the very governments who took our land in the first place. It’s about time a more financially meaningful way is established to reconcile Indigenous land issues.”

This announcement is expected to benefit First Nations, Inuit, and Metis across the country, with the most impact in BC as fewer treaties have been ratified. Indigenous groups have been asking for loan forgiveness for years, arguing against the borrowing, and then repayment, of monies to protect land that was never given up.

The First Nations Summit, in an earlier statement, said: “Treaty negotiation debt has left First Nations at a significant financial and economic disadvantage. This debt has also had detrimental economic, social and political impacts on First Nations that have been working to resolve the outstanding land question in BC through treaty negotiations for decades.”

The Gitxsan Treaty Society was established in the early 90s with members of the Chiefs Advisory Team known as CAT (with three members from each clan) who worked on the Delgamuukw court case.

For its part, the Gitxsan Treaty Society will receive $26 million in loan forgiveness for funds that have been accessed through the loan system and distributed over the last 25 years. Loan funds have been allocated to fund negotiators, administrative, legal, and travel expenses, and other operational costs.

The Gitxsan Treaty Society has approached treaty negotiations as a mechanism for government to understand that each Chief (and Wilp, House group) owns a portion of Gitxsan land which added together total 33,000 sq km of land. The Gitxsan First Nation has approximately 14,000 Gitxsan members and 60 Simgiigyet (Hereditary Chiefs). The approach is one that focuses on Hereditary Chief land ownership and not on following one that transfer traditional lands to Band and Council which is considered colonial and still under the Indian Act.

With the new changes that have been adopted within the Provincial and Federal reconciliation mandate, this allows for the Gitxsan traditional land tenure model to be more widely accepted and will prove to be less challenging in settling Indigenous land issues.

The Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs have had to play hard ball with the government for agreements that benefit the Nation, including forest licensing. More recently, the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs have led the formation of the Gitxsan Huwilp Government of which each participating Chief is an autonomous governing entity. This approach is a different approach than what most Indigenous groups who are negotiating treaties in BC – whereas in their situations any lands negotiated by Treaty are managed by Band and Council which is a colonial structure that was set up during the Indian Act. The Gitxsan specify that their land ownership follows their historical traditional structure which has existed before colonial times and before the Indian Act. This structure gives each Head Hereditary Chief autonomy to make decisions for their laxyip (traditional territory). Currently the Gitxsan Huwilp Government has participation from 48 of 60 Hereditary Chiefs with the mission to be inclusive of all 60 in the near future.

Treaty negotiation support funding allocated by the Treaty Commission is now 100 percent contribution funding. Moving forward, it has replaced negotiation support loans with non-repayable contribution funding for First Nations participating in modern treaty negotiations. Canada provides over 90% of the contribution funding and BC provides the remainder. All of the funding is hinged upon an agreed Tripartite work plan and until one has been reached there is no negotiation discussions that will be planned.

Press Releases

Release: Gitxsan Concerned About Policing Over Indigenous Issues And Stand With Wet’suwet’en Neighbours To Urge Bc Government To Withdraw Police Enforcement And Resolve Peacefully

As the Wet’suwet’en Nation prepares to defend its rightful jurisdiction against the Coastal GasLink Pipeline project and invasion made by the RCMP, the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs- as they have done since the historic case at Delgumuukw/Gisday’wa – extends its full support to its neighbour nation. The Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs will be keeping a close watch on the activity of the RCMP to ensure they are resolving these land issues peacefully and collaboratively.

READ THE FULL RELEASE HERE

Newsletters

JULY/AUGUST 2019 Newsletter

We have a mission to keep adding chiefs to the table and since our last update in January we have added another six chiefs (including myself) to the Gitxsan Government. The Gitxsan government has always been here and we are established. Now it’s just meeting of the minds, bringing us together and working together to have a stronger position on issues like jurisdiction over our Annats.

Read more…

Press Releases

RELEASE: Gitxsan Chiefs Extend Fishing Ban to 2020 & Urge Canada, BC and Ministries to Step Up

“A temporary fish ban by DFO is not solving the issue; it’s merely putting a band aid on it.”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

HAZELTON, BC – JULY 26, 2019A management committee called ‘Crisis Management Team’ has been created by the Gitxsan Chiefs which focuses on addressing the fish crisis. In doing so, the Chiefs have denied the public and fish permit holders access to fish the fisheries tenure/Anaat (cultural fishing holes) for 2019, first announced in May.

Today the Gitxsan Chiefs that make up the Crisis Management Team announced that they will extend the fish closure to the 2020 fishing season in response to what they believe is Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO) mismanagement of the fisheries along the Skeena River.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is supposed to be announcing that there is a food fishery closure notice for Skeena FSC sockeye on the evening of Sunday July 28th. Depending upon the estimated returns of Skeena Sockeye past the Tyee Test Fishery between now and then this decision could change. Further to this, DFO is expected to also close recreational fishing for all species of Salmon in River. They have chosen to reduce the Chinook recreational fishery catch from 2 Chinook to 1 in Marine area 4 and portions of 3 and 5. Pending a formal announcement, this information may change.

DFO uses data from the Tyee Test Fishery to determine fish counts and when fish counts are lower in volume that is what dictates fish closures issued by DFO.

The Gitxsan Crisis Team states that these measures are not enough: “A temporary fish ban by DFO is not solving the issue; it’s merely putting a band aid on it. We’ve fished these rivers our whole lives and we know when we have a fish crisis on our hands. With impacts of development along our rivers such as highways, railways, agriculture, mines and clear cutting to name a few – these are additional external factors that play a role in declining fish stocks which have been continually deteriorating over the past century,” says Brian Williams, Chair of Gigeenix (Up River Chiefs).

The Gitxsan Chiefs that form part of the Crisis Management Team ask for a number of items to be addressed:

First, Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRO) issues fishing permits and cutting permits for clear cut logging. The issue is the overcutting that causes drought in the streams resulting in fish habitats being destroyed by logging. The Crisis Management Team needs a plan to address the damage caused by government issued permits.

Second, we don’t rely on Tyee Test Fishery (measurement to count fish stock) to close fishing to the public and permit holders – we know our fish are in crisis and we require more meaningful participation from BC and Canada during our Crisis Management Meetings. Simply coming to the table is not enough. We ask both governments to assign proper levels of authority and to bring the right decision makers to the table.

Lastly, DFO had agreed to make arrangements to invite the Sports Fishery Advisory Council (SFAC) to today’s meeting. We encourage their participation and we want them to be a part of the solution and require collaboration.

The Crisis Management team is committed to addressing this issue in collaboration with all stakeholders. The committee’s mandate also includes collaboration with other First Nations, as part of the Skeena Nations Fish Forum Protocol. As this is a matter that affects the future of the whole region, the Crisis Team is calling on the governments of Canada and BC to step up to honour their commitments to truth and reconciliation by working with the Gitxsan to address this matter of vital importance to our people.

ABOUT THE GITXSAN

The diverse Gitxsan Nation, in Northern BC, is made up of four clans and House Groups called Huwilp led by Simgiigyet who hold the governance authority (Daxgyet). The traditional society is governed by a system of laws (Ayook) and oral histories (Adaakw), all carried out in feast hall (Lilliget).  The Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en people made history and headlines in 1997 when, on appeal, together they sought the first comprehensive account of aboriginal rights and title in Canada in the Delgamuukw court decision. The Gitxsan Nation covers 33,000 sq. km in Northwest BC; it is estimated that there are 14,000 people of Gitxsan heritage throughout the world.

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MEDIA CONTACTS

Gwiiyeehl Brian Williams, Chair of Gigeenix (Up River Chiefs)
Work: 250-842-6780 | bwilliams@gitxsan.ca Sakum Higookw Vernon Smith, Representative of Gyeets (Down River Chiefs)
Work: 250-849-5308 Niisgimiinuu Robert Campbell (Member of Up River Chiefs)
Work: 250-842-5199
Press Releases

Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs Prohibit All Recreational And Sport Fishing In 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

HAZELTON, B.C., April 29, 2019 – Since September 2017, in a historic milestone for the Gitxsan, 38 Hereditary Chiefs – dubbed the Huwilp Government – have been working together to protect the salmon habitat, as salmon are integral to the diet and culture of the indigenous peoples in the Skeena Watershed. The Chiefs are enforcing individual Indigenous rights to the fisheries and bringing awareness for the traditional Gitxsan fisheries tenure (Anaat) along the Skeena River. Central to the Chiefs’ working together, and building on the 2018 ban, is a recreational and sport fishing ban for all license/permit holders in the 2019 season.

“All persons holding recreational fishing permits and/or fish guiding licenses are no longer allowed to trespass in Gitxsan territory. People need to know that when they fish here, they are trespassing in controlled territory,” says Brian Williams, Chair of Gigeenix (Up River Chiefs).

An advisory committee called ‘Crisis Team’ has been created by the Chiefs to focus on discussing public access to fisheries tenure/Anaat for the year 2020. The committee’s mandate also includes an advisory role with stakeholders like BC and Canada and collaboration with other First Nations dealing with the salmon crisis, as part of the Skeena Nations Fish Forum Protocol.

The Crisis team is collaborating with the government to create a future process where all recreational fishers require permission from individual Chiefs to fish on the river. While the ban marks the beginning of an ambitious journey, the process fully respects the Daxgyet of the Simgiigyet and adheres to the tenets of the traditional system (Ayook, Adaakw and Lilliget).

“Our fish are in crisis and this is an ongoing situation with a track record that has been going downhill. We have to do something. The next step we talk about is to find a path to turn this around and banning recreational and sports fishers from fishing our traditional territory is a step in the right direction,” says Art Wilson (Wiimoulglxsw), Gitxsan Hereditary Chief.

A communication platform that includes a website, newsletters and live streaming of meetings has been created to promote transparency around the decisions and actions of Huwilp Government. A full list of participating Chiefs is posted. While 38 Chiefs are currently participating, and the goal is to reflect all of the traditional Gitxsan Anaat.

Download the press release for more details or the Crisis Team Terms of Reference for more details.