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.
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.
Gwiiyeehl Brian Williams, Chair of Gigeenix (Up River Chiefs)
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Moolxhan Norman Moore, Member of the Gigeenix (Up River Chiefs)
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Niisgimiinuu Robert Campbell (Member of Up River Chiefs)
MEDIA INTERVIEW AND INFORMATION COORDINATION
Allies in Action, Ruby Gill
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.
- 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.