Northern Gateway project splits First Nations leaders

  • 22 Aug 2016
  • Calgary Herald

Northern Gateway project splits First Nations leaders

Rift among Haida chiefs an issue that could continue to occur elsewhere

The dispute over who in the powerful Haida Nation can speak publicly on divisive issues such as the Enbridge Northern Gateway project is revealing how First Nations’ traditional clan-based methods of government are being threatened, a UBC professor says.

In stripping two hereditary chiefs of their titles for supporting the pipeline project, the Haida Nation tried to reassert its natural authority, says Bruce Miller, a professor of anthropology.

But the case has wide implications for other First Nations and aboriginal groups, especially because the Haida is one of the most influential tribal groups.

“The whole things splits out the solidarity of the Haida Nation and puts them in some kind of jeopardy,” said Miller, who has studied B.C. First Nations for more than 40 years.

Last week, one of the nation’s 22 clans took the virtually unprecedented action of stripping two of its house chiefs, Carmen Goertzen and Francis Ingram, of their hereditary titles because they supported Enbridge’s project in a letter to the National Energy Board.

The elaborate ceremony, attended by about 500 people, was seen as a public repudiation of both the chiefs and Enbridge’s efforts to cultivate support in a nation that had, as a whole, opposed the Northern Gateway project.

But people who watch the Haida, a historically fierce and independent nation, say there are wide implications at play.

“Here is one of the really strong and intact nations, struggling about what to do over resource development, to the point that this catastrophic thing happened,” Miller said.

“Other First Nations and aboriginal people in Canada are looking at what’s happening at Haida with some concerns. Because they are so significant, I would think that things would reverberate in the aboriginal world.”

On Wednesday, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs said the ceremony was a message to hereditary chiefs to put their wider clan responsibilities above their own interests.

What started the rift was a letter that eight Haida members, including four hereditary chiefs, wrote to the NEB in March supporting a request from Enbridge to extend its Northern Gateway permit. The letter was signed by eight as “hereditary leaders,” who said they have partnership in a company, Hereditary Chiefs of North Haida Gwaii LLP.

On July 1, in a countering letter, 12 other hereditary chiefs demanded the NEB “rescind” the initial letter, noting those signatories don’t collectively represent the communities, only four were hereditary chiefs and that only Peter Lantin, president of the Council of the Haida Nation, could speak on behalf of the entire nation.

But in another response filed with the NEB, two of the original letter’s signatories say they had the right to speak their minds.

“As individuals we just exercised our rights under the Constitution of the Haida Nation developed by the Haida people,” wrote Mick Morrison and Arnold Bellis. They did not explain why they positioned themselves in their first letter as a coalition of hereditary leaders.

The dispute between the Haida may have implications for other First Nations whose membership is divided over the Enbridge proposal.

The Gitxsan nation in the Hazelton area is deeply split.

On one side are members of the Gitxsan Treaty Society and the Gitxsan Development Corp. who favour the Enbridge deal proposal and other resource transport developments, including some LNG pipeline proposals. On the other side are some of Gitxsan’s 87 house clans who oppose the projects and refuse to negotiate.

Several years ago, it led to protesters seizing, for eight months, the offices of Elmer Derrick, the first chief to endorse the Enbridge project.

He signed the nation on as a member in Aboriginal Equity Partners, a group that now has a 10 per cent stake in Northern Gateway.

But irate Gitxsan members say he never consulted with other houses or families, and many remain opposed to the project as well as to proposed LNG pipelines. A court eventually ordered the office returned to Derrick.

“Elmer misrepresents himself as speaking on behalf of the Gitxsan nation,” said Richard Wright, a spokesman for the Luutkudziiwus, one of 87 Gitxsan houses.

Wright said “shaming feasts” such as the one held by the Haida are one way to call hereditary chiefs to task when they aren’t seen to be acting in their clan’s best interests.

But he said it would be up to members of Derrick’s own clan, not other Gitxsan clans, to strip him of his hereditary title if they don’t agree with his actions.


About prosperitysaskatchewan

Consultant on Saskatchewan's natural resources.

Posted on August 22, 2016, in economic impact, miscellaneous, oil, political. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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