Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Taking the message to prime time

The opening days of the Olympic games provided the perfect spot for the Gitxsan to outline their concerns and hopes for the treaty process with the Province of British Columbia.

Television ads shown on the CBC in the first days of their coverage provided some background on their plans a version of which is provided below.

The Daily News also picked up the thread with an article in the August 12 edition of the paper.

Gitxsan take treaty fight to TV
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Pages one and three

In 1994 the Gitxsan balked at the treaty table, tired of the old way of negotiating. In 2008 they want to come back to the table with a new approach.

As seen on their TV advertising campaign that began on Friday on the CBC, the Gitxsan have taken up a public relations campaign to educate British Columbians about what it is they want from their negotiations with government deal makers.

In one advertisement the Gitxsan say that they want a shared decision making power and wealth that arise from those decisions when it comes to the 33,000 square kilometers of Gitxsan territory. But they also want what other Canadians already have – they want to be considered Canadian.

“The campaign is about education,” said Gordon Sebastian, executive director of the Gitxsan Chief’s office. “We want to let people know about why we haven’t settled at the treaty table and that it was the government negotiators who left the table because we would not negotiate under the Indian Act.”

One of the stipulations of the B. C. Treaty model for negotiations is that a First Nation must install a new government that would replace the Indian Act of Bands and Councils. The Gitxsan don’t agree with this policy as they believe that both the BC and Canadian governments are more than adequate in governing the Gitxsan and to duplicate services already available from provincial and federal governments is costly and inconvenient.

Sebastian points to both section 91 and 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867 (formerly known as the British North American Act, 1867) that gives legislative authority to the Canadian parliament for First Nations and First Nations’ land use and the provincial government legislation over issues that are pertinent to only the province.

All the Gitxsan want, said Sebastian, is a negotiated settlement on resources from their territory and to be allowed to be regular participants in northern Canadian society who pay income and sales tax.

They want to be and protect northern BC interests.

“Currently there is no legislature that keeps the benefits from our resources in the north for all the nationalities that live up here,” said Sebastian.

“It seems that all our resources (Gitxsan and others) get used to build new roads in Vancouver or infrastructure in Victoria.”

The Gitxsan Nation does not recognize the Indian Act because their history and traditions differ from other First Nations in that they don’t have a band or council. It’s what they call the hereditary system, or Wilp, in which a member of the Gitxsan chooses to be a leader of group of members and pays for that right. Currently Sebastian is a leader of 600 members over a territory of 11 – by - five kilometers.

That leader, or Simghiighet, is expected to hold no personal interests and is responsible for maintaining laws, customs and territories to name a few. And it is that leadership model the Gitxsan hopes to be respected.

“At this point the BC and federal government only negotiate with bands and councils but the Gitxsan cannot accept this.”

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