At the recent pole raising ceremony on Lelu Island, Simoyget Yaahan Don Wesley, who was the face and voice of the resistance to the PETRONAS led Pacific Northwest LNG development on the island said, “Today, the Tsimshian people and the Gitwilgyoots stand proudly to stand this pole that marks the occasion of … where our ancestors left off at Rupert harbour thousands of years ago …. to commemorate what we have done here, the past to years, of taking on a giant in the Liquified Natural Gas Industry, the Federal and Provincial governments, the Lax Kwa’laams Indian Band, the Metlakatla Indian Band that tried to take away our land, our way of life and our salmon. The people of the gitwagiats tribe got together and made a stand to show Canada that our blood is still here on this land and that we are here forever.”
The Tsimshian people are constituted in seven First Nations, the Kitselas, Kitsumkalum, Lax Kw’Alaams, Metlakatla, Kitkatla, Gitga’at and the Kitasoo. By the reference to ‘Lax Kwa’laams Indian Band’ and ‘Metlakatla Indian Band’ above, the speaker is indexing the elected bodies representing these bands and not the people s individuals. The Gitwilgyoots are themselves Lax Kwa’laams and, according to Shanon Lough in the Nothern View, the ceremony was attended by about 100 people including members of Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla bands, along with people from the Gitga’at and Gitxsan Nation, as well as non-Indigenous people, some from as far away as Montreal, Wyoming, California and New Mexico.
There are presently 3 applications for judicial review brought by Gitwilgyoots Tribe, Gitanyow Tribe and by and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust in connection with the PETRONAS/ Northern Gateway investment proposal on Lelu Island. In considering the reasonableness and good faith of the government’s decision to proceed with this development, it seems clear from the Federal Appeal’s court decision on the matter of the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project that the Crown is obliged to consult with First Nations on whose territories economic developments take place before proceeding with any decision making. There are two specific issues that need to be resolved: –
1. Who should be consulted – which boils down to whose authority the Court recognizes over the lands occupied by the Gitwilgyoots and the Gitanyow tribes. In this matter the Lax Kw’alaams Band Council has launched a legal challenge to the tribal authority of hereditary chief Simogyet Yahaan.
2. What does meaningful consultation amount to – As David P. Ball notes in a Metro Vancouver article, when asked what ‘meaningful consultation’ would look like Chief Malii of the Gitanyow replied: “It means you have to really listen to the aboriginal group, take into account what they’re saying, and you have a discussion … It’s not just having a meeting or writing a letter; it’s an actual exchange.”
The first point goes to the heart of First Nations autonomy as Band Council’s are appointed under the auspices of Canadian legislation, while hereditary leadership in inherent to the native order and relationship with this land. The second point, which is the subject of this post, goes to the heart of the matter of any possible reconciliation with the First peoples on our common abode. It seems to be a matter of good faith and common sense, that recognition of the First Nations should involve some semblance of respect for their jurisdiction. Faith and sense which the details of the Tribes’ applications for judicial review indicate the Crown may not have displayed!