Last week was tumultuous one in the Hazeltons after it was announced that one of the Gitxsan First Nation’s hereditary chiefs sign an agreement with energy company, Enbridge, giving the group a stake in the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline.
While the company believes that the deal represents a consensus among the Gitxsan, there is a very vocal backlash to the decision by some who say that the chief who negotiated the deal with the company, Elmer Derrick, didn’t have the right to unilaterally agree to such a deal. Last week, Derrick was dismissed from his position as the primary treaty negotiator for the Gitxsan.
“The three clans met separately and each of them voted unanimously for the three top people Elmer Derrick, Gord Sebastian and Beverly Clifton to be terminated immediately and the building shut down,” says another of the Gitxsan’s Hereditary Chief Norman Stephens.
The front of the Gitxsan treaty office has become the site of a sit-in protest by members of the community who say that they are outraged by the decision. A court order was obtained giving police the power to remove the protestors but according to another Hereditary Chief Larry Pastsey, they have received word from the RCMP’s commissioner that the protestors will not be moved as long as they remain peaceful, although this could not be confirmed. As of Friday afternoon though the protesters had not been moved.
Another sore point for the chiefs who are against the Enbridge deal is the amount of money being offered. Chief Stephens, says that $7-million dollars mentioned at the agreement’s announcement isn’t all that much when you consider its their share for the entire lifetime of the pipeline.
“They’re willing to pay $7-million dollars which is pretty cheap advertising if you consider what the Gitxsan are actually getting. It divides up into $233,000 a year and then, from there with 10,000 Gitxsan then you have $23 a person per year. That’s all it is. Unbelievable. . . they’re putting our resources at risk for a laughable amount of money,” says Stephens.
Enbridge has been keeping the exact details of the agreement under wraps but confirms that the $7m-million figure is for the lifetime of the pipeline. But wouldn’t say if it would be paid out year-by-year or as a lump sum. It should be noted however, the pipeline money is meant to go into a trust controlled by the chiefs for reinvestment in the community, not to be divided into dividends for individual members.
Enbridge is adamant that its deal is not only fair but that it does have the popular support of the majority of the Gitxsan. The problem is that anyone who might support the deal is being drowned out by a very vocal and angry opposition.
“There is opposition to this, the opposition is viniferous but one must caution that this may not represent the majority view,” says Todd Nogier from Enbridge.
Local MP Nathan Cullen has come out in support of those who are protesting and that the agreement is “worthless.”
“The chiefs tell me that [Elmer Derrick] had no mandate to sign that agreement. . . I don’t see how this thing would have any standing if legitimacy is meant to based in the hereditary chiefs, because the chiefs I’ve spoken to want nothing to do with it,” says Cullen.
Cullen says he will be at the table during a planned meeting with the company to discuss the deal.