Rail, logging, and sport-fishing companies operating along the Skeena River watershed could be targeted with “service disruptions” beginning the first week of August.
Gitxsan First Nation negotiator Gwaans (Beverley Clifton Percival) told the Straight that businesses were given until August 4 to vacate 33,000 square kilometres of land to which the Gitxsan hold title.
After that time, “next steps” will be taken, Clifton Percival said in a telephone interview.
“We are going to take action against CN [Rail], and we are going to look at the railway line and a potential disruption of service,” she continued. “We’re going to take action August 5 if there is no action by the Crown.”
Clifton Percival declined to say what options the Gitxsan might pursue.
“We don’t want any violence or confrontation, but we want the Crown to step up,” she added. “We want to deal with CN, we want to deal with the sport fisheries, we want to deal with B.C. Timber Sales.”
The B.C. Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation did not grant an interview. A spokesperson for CN Rail said negotiations are ongoing and that the company has “no further comment”.
The Gitxsan eviction notices follow a June 26 Supreme Court of Canada decision stating that corporations must have the consent of First Nations before they proceed with projects on land where aboriginal people hold title.
Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip told the Straight that the Tsilhqot’in decision, as it is known, has altered Canada’s constitutional landscape.
“The Gitxsan people are serving notice that things have changed,” he said. “There needs to be a higher duty of care and respect for their aboriginal-title rights.”
Phillip noted that since the Tsilhqot’in decision, First Nations groups have filed 11 separate but coordinated lawsuits aimed at stopping the construction of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which would transport heavy crude oil from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C.
He said that First Nations peoples are rallying together in ways they haven’t in many years. Phillip compared the situation to an atmosphere of cooperation that was borne out of flashpoints at Oka, Quebec, in 1990, and Gustafsen Lake, B.C., in 1995.
“All of the First nations in this country stood together in solidarity,” he recalled.
Today, Phillip continued, the rallying point is an “absolute failure” of the treaty process.
“What we are witnessing is the manifestation of the frustrations of our rights and interests being denied by both Canada and B.C.,” he said.