Gitxsan First Nation grants extension on CN Rail eviction

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CN Rail and other companies operating in northwestern B.C. have received a brief period of reprieve following the Gitxsan First Nation issuing “eviction” notices last month.

Hereditary chiefs have given rail, logging, and sport-fishing businesses in the region a revised deadline of August 25.

In a telephone interview, Gwaans, who also goes by her English name Beverley Clifton Percival, told the Straight that by that date, she hopes the B.C. government will have made progress on a promise to address Gitxsan concerns. If not, she continued, Gitxsan members could resume plans to begin service disruptions.

“Everything is on the table until we get our desired result,” said Clifton Percival, a negotiator for the Gitxsan Treaty Society (GTS). “But we need to give them time to facilitate that process and to show that we’re reasonable.”

The Gitxsan First Nation claims title to 33,000 square kilometres of land north of Smithers. The group’s dispute is actually with the government. It relates to the province including Gitxsan land in treaties proposed for the neighbouring Kitselas and Kitsumkalum bands.

In response to what the GTS describes as government inaction, it has also ceased all negotiations on pipelines proposed for its territory. Affected developments include Spectra Energy’s West Coast Connector Gas Transmission Project and the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project.

The Straight’s request for an interview with the B.C. Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation on the topic of the Gitxsan eviction notices was referred to the Ministry of Justice. A Justice representative was not made available.

Doug Donaldson is the NDP MLA for Stikine (which includes the Gitxsan’s territory) and the former Opposition critic for aboriginal affairs. Interviewed at his office in Hazelton, he told the Straight that he views the Gitxsan’s eviction notices “in a context of a litany of distrust”.

Donaldson revealed that it’s his understanding the province is planning for September meetings. He questioned why, with the Gitxsan threatening to disrupt this summer’s sport-fishing season, for example, B.C. Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad hasn’t acted more quickly.

“The government is saying, ‘We’re going to wait and see how serious they are,’ ” Donaldson said. “Well, in my experience, the Gitxsan do not issue idle threats.”

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