A group of Gitxsan hereditary chiefs, matriarchs and elders issued an “eviction notice” to Stikine MLA Nathan Cullen on Saturday (Nov. 27), citing failure to ensure the safety of his constituents including the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en.
Members of the Gitxsan Huwilp Government posted the notice of eviction outside the NDP MLA’s office in Hazelton and said they were evicting him under Gitxsan law, Section 35 of the Canadian constitution and the 1997 Delgamuukw decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. The Stikine MLA’s Hazelton office is one of the two constituency offices he has in the northwest with the other situated in Smithers.
In a phone interview from Smithers, Cullen said that he will be meeting with the chiefs to talk about a way forward in the coming days as the Hazelton constituency office serves an entire community.
“I’m sure we can come to some kind of understanding so that we’re not denying people services that they need, because that doesn’t really help anybody from my perspective,” said Cullen.
Cullen’s eviction comes a week after 29 Coastal GasLink pipeline opponents were arrested by the RCMP near Houston between Nov. 18-19. All those arrested were subsequently released with conditions in court last week.
“You failed to ensure the safety of your constituents, including Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en people from the violence and excessive force used by overly armed RCMP at or near Houston B.C. and New Hazelton B.C. during the months of October to November 2021,” read the statement of eviction issued Nov 26.
Cullen, who is also B.C.’s Minister of State for Lands and Natural Resource Operations, was also accused of failing to properly represent the causes and concerns of the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en people in the legislative assembly.
Failure to leave would lead to Cullen being considered a “trespasser, without permission” on Gitxsan land, said the office of the hereditary chiefs in the statement.
Chiefs of the Gitxsan Huwilp Government claimed that Cullen had not fulfilled any of the promises he made to the Huwilp “directly” during his campaign.
“We’re here to evict Nathan Cullen, the representative of the Stikine region from Gitxsan territory because he failed to stand up for the poor people… Everybody is getting rich from our land and we remain poor,” said a Gitxsan chief from outside Cullen’s Hazelton office.
The group also said that the eviction also applies to all “corporations” on their lands, referring to CGL.
“We’re not going to stand by when our land is being poisoned by the pipeline. We are not going to stand by as big corporations come out from other countries and take all our resources while our future generations are going to suffer.”
In 2020 when opposition to the CGL pipeline escalated, Cullen was appointed by B.C.’s Premier John Horgan to play an intermediary role between the provincial government and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs,” said the notice.
The notice also comes in the wake of heavy police presence in the Gitxsan communities following the arrest of one of its members near the CN rail tracks on Nov. 21. Denzel Sutherland-Wilson was arrested for a blockade set up near the tracks in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en pipeline opponents. He was released the same day with charges of mischief. Cullen said that this incident has led to a great deal of stress and strain in the community.
According to Cullen, a group of Gitxsan chiefs (the same ones who issued the eviction notice) reached out to him on Wednesday asking for a meeting with the RCMP, which was arranged. Cullen was to meet with the chiefs on Friday but had to reschedule the meeting to next week, due to a delayed flight back from Victoria.
Further responding to the chiefs’ allegations of inaction against him, Cullen said that he communicates the concerns of his constituency members to the provincial government “each and every day.” He also said that there has been constant dialogue with the chiefs in northwest region about these issues which are “complex,” and “layered.”
“A lot of my work does not take place on Twitter… A lot of it is very sensitive and important and discreet. So I understand that people haven’t seen as much with me making big speeches and tweeting about issues but these are very complex and sensitive issues,” said Cullen.