Province Neglects To Properly Consult, Accommodate And Breaches Gitxsan Traditional Laws; CN Silent On Train Derailment Precautionary Plans.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
HAZELTON, BC -JULY 29, 2021 – In response to a perceived environmental risk on Ross Lake, the Province of British Columbia has missed an important step through its failure to adequately collaborate with Gitxsan Huwilp Government. Consequently, the Huwilp Government has retained legal counsel and is filing an Environmental Appeal Board response to be officially recognized for consultation – as opposed to currently only a single Hereditary Chief – and, as knowledge-keepers for Ross Lake, to be included in the technical response to the situation.
Ross Lake Provincial Park is located near Hazelton on Gitxsan traditional territory east on Highway 16. Originally said to have two creeks running into the area, a 6-feet-deep earth berm was created by the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada, which is now estimated to be 100 years old. The railway was bought by CN Rail and the dam (Ross Lake Provincial Park) is now owned by BC Parks: both are on Gitxsan Traditional Territory. Originally there was an emergency order to proceed to drain Ross Lake, now the water levels have lowered naturally, and the Province will be monitoring the situation with an action plan it says will be presented by October 2021.
“One person flagged the water flow issue over the bermed dam structure and from that one observation, BC Parks considered it as an environmental risk to the Buckley River and possible dam failure which could result in washing out the CN tracks downstream. A Water Act Order was issued to drain Ross Lake without consulting the Gitxsan First Nation. After plans were underway, we were forced to interject to prevent significant damage to our traditional resources. Draining Ross Lake into the Buckley River could impact our rivers, wildlife, resources, fish habitats and the existing ecosystem. It impacts our entire nation,” says Gwiiyeehl Brian Williams, Chair of the Crisis Management Committee.
While the Province has engaged with a member of the Gitxsan Nation in relation to the plans, it has failed to recognize and consult the official Gitxsan Huwilp Government, which represents the majority of the Nation.
Synopsis of the Issue
- Ross Lake and the Buckley River is in the traditional territory of the Gitxsan and originally no consultation was done prior to the November order being placed.
- One person triggered the issue and no other resources were used including Traditional Ecological Knowledge Study, Local Knowledge Keepers, etc
- Originally no Chief or consultation was planned when the original order was put in place. Now only one Chief is listed on the province’s letter for the Water Order when it in fact impacts all of our Chiefs. Though we have a provincial representative on our Crisis Management Committee, (a Gitxsan Huwilp Government initiative that includes over 50 Hereditary Chiefs) the Gitxsan would like it officially documented.
- CN owns the railway and they have been silent on their plan; they have inherited the liability when they bought the railway from the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada.
- The earth berm has had 100 years to create its own ecosystem which will result in major environmental and habitat impacts in Ross Lake and the Bulkley River if it was drained.
- Gitxsan law dictates that permission is required and to date no permission or accommodation has been discussed.
“I find it rather alarming that we have a hereditary government structure in place but yet, it has in this case and many other instances attempted to be bypassed. What’s the point of DRIPA “recognizing unique and distinct forms of self-determination” if government isn’t honoring it? These requests might seem insignificant to outsiders, but our traditional governance system dictates a precise process when it comes to land issues and access. Engaging with the Gitxsan Huwilp (Chiefs) Government as a whole, rather than a lax and inconsistent approach to ‘consultation’ can ensure that proper protocols are followed. The government needs to understand that it’s not just about a duty consult – what Indigenous communities need is for the government to seek formal permission.” says Moolaxan Norman Moore.
In addition to the asks above, the Gitxsan Huwilp (Chiefs) Government would like the government to educate themselves on the 33,000 sq km’s of traditional land occupied by the Gitxsan First Nation, then it would advise all civil servants and employees to watch the Gitxsan Huwilp Government film detailing the jurisdiction issue around Annat (fishing holes).