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Key native group in Northern B.C. threatens to stop talks on pipelines

Members of the Gitxsan First Nation opposed to the $5.5-billion Enbridge oil pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia port of Kitimat warm themselves around a fire at a camp outside the Gitxsan Treaty Office in Hazelton, B.C., on Thursday January 12, 2012.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Another crack has appeared in the government's energy strategy, with a key native group in northern B.C. threatening "to stop discussions [regarding] any and all proposed pipeline development" in their territory.

The Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs, whose traditional lands near Hazelton lie in the path of several proposed oil and gas pipelines, say they will block those projects unless the government withdraws controversial treaty deals offered to two neighbouring bands.

Gwaans – chief negotiator for the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs whose English name is Beverley Clifton Percival – said Monday the threat to pull out of pipeline talks was made to get the government's attention and drive home the importance of the issue.

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"That [energy development] appears to be their only interest right now," Gwaans said.

She said the government's emphasis on energy gives the Gitxsan leverage because they occupy lands that several LNG pipelines, and Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway oil project, would have to cross. "There's no way around it," she said of Gitxsan traditional territory.

The hereditary chiefs have given the government until June 21 to pull back from the disputed treaties, which the Gitxsan say would put some of their ancestral lands under control of the Kitselas and Kitsumkalum bands, which belong to the Tsimshian First Nation.

The declaration comes just days after government officials were kicked out of an aboriginal LNG conference in Fort Nelson. The ejection, made to protest regulatory changes that would have exempted gas plants from environmental assessment, shocked the government, which promptly rescinded the changes. The event raised doubts about the province's ability to win aboriginal support for an energy corridor across northern B.C.

Gwaans said the Gitxsan dispute and the issue at the Fort Nelson LNG conference both underscore a breakdown in communications between First Nations and the government.

"The Crown is still running roughshod over our rights. And you can see that all across the North with respect to the energy corridor," she said.

Chief Joe Bevan of the Kitselas band said years of work have gone into the treaty proposal and he doesn't want to see the deal founder now. "Considering the amount of time and effort put in to this … we'd be foolish to walk away. That's just not in the cards at this point," he said.

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Mr. Bevan said he thinks the Kitselas have a fair claim to the land and he feels the Gitxsan dispute is with the government, not his band.

A spokesman for the Kitsumkalum band could not be reached, and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Rustad wasn't immediately available to comment.

Sharleen Gale, Chief of the Fort Nelson First Nations, said she has received an outpouring of support from other native leaders since she kicked government officials out of the LNG conference last week.

She said no energy projects will proceed in her territory until the band gets more control over development and is assured of environmental protection. She said it will take a direct meeting with Premier Christy Clark to work things out.

In an e-mail Monday, a spokesman for Ms. Clark said the Premier would be "happy to meet with Chief Gale – timing to be determined based on schedules."

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About the Authors
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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