Monday, November 09, 2009

Gitxsan seek to move forward Governance model with Federal Minister Chuck Strahl

"Every time we sit down with politicians at every level, I make a point of saying the Gitsxan don't want to be a burden on the Crown and we don't want the Crown to be a burden on us," -- Gitxsan's chief negotiator, Elmer Derrick, outlining part of the groundbreaking change of direction when it comes to treaty negotiations between the Gitxsan and the federal and provincial governments.

The 13,000 members of the Gitsxan First Nation aren't totally in agreement with their leaders, but it would seem that enough must be on side, as hereditary Gitxsan negotiators continue to work out the details of their approach to treaty negotiations. A proposal which would see them relinquish their status under the Indian act and seek out radical changes to the normal standard for treaty negotiations.

The document that the Gitxsan hereditary leaders have put together is called the Gitxsan Reconciliation Alternative Governance Model, a copy of which is available on the Internet for further study.

A delegation of their negotiators will meet with Federal Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl next month, bringing with them details on that Governance model, that would see their people relinquish reserves, tax exemptions, Indian Act housing and financial supports in exchange for a share of resources.

The meeting with the Federal Minister was arranged after his provincial counterpart, George Abbott, met twice with the Gitxsan treaty team and has had his senior negotiator begin the process of examining the proposals of the Gitxsan.

The campaign to introduce the alternative governance model first came to the public's attention last year with some media coverage and a number of television commercials that outlined the key points of the proposal.

In exchange for their move away from the current system, the Gitxsan would take land ownership and cash, and as the process would be implemented the Gitxsan would want a share of the resources that are taken from the 33,000-square-kilometre traditional territory.

Beyond the extinguishment of the current structure and relationship of today, the other controversial aspect of their proposal is the day to day operations once the agreement would be in place, it would see issues managed by their traditional system of clans and houses.

A shift in direction from the current model of elected band officials who have been operating under the statutes of the Indian Act.

It's that possibility of a power struggle between the two differing views, that may give federal and provincial officials cause for consideration on the proposal, as they try to gauge how much support the hereditary chief's proposal has, compared to the current elected officials process found in such communities as Kispiox, Gitanmaax and Gitwangak, as well as is common to other First Nations and their territories.

The proposal offers up a number of questions for the two levels of government to examine further, especially the prospect of the reaction and potential challenges, of those members who may not agree with their hereditary chiefs , particularly on the topics of the surrender of their constitutionally entrenched rights around fishing and hunting and whether those rights can even be terminated by any agreement .

There will be a fair amount of work to be done on the proposal before it will be anywhere near ready for implementation, if it even reaches that stage at all.

The first and most important step will be determining if it would be practical to continue on with talks, or if there is enough internal division within the Gitxsan, to give the federal and provincial governments cause for caution on their approach towards the proposal.

Globe and Mail-- Native tribe will petition Ottawa to remove its Indian stat

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