Gitxsan industry meets Gitxsan activism in B.C. - APTN NewsAPTN News

Gitxsan industry meets Gitxsan activism in B.C.


(Members of Wilp Nikate’en  maintain a protest camp outside the former Gitxsan Mill. Photo: John Murray/APTN)

John Murray
In the early morning hours in late August, and under cover of darkness, a group in camouflaged dark clothes snuck into the locked compound of the Gitxsan Forest Incorporated (GFI) in South Hazelton, B.C, retrieved keys from an office, started seven vehicles and proceeded to drive away.

At the gate sat a group of activists who were blocking the entrance – vowing to stay there until their demand to meet with GFI executives, the owners of the property and the abandoned mill on the grounds.

“We were sitting in the camp here and we heard all the vehicles door slam at once and we all just jumped up right away,” said Robin Muldoe was among the group blocking the entrance. “We were trying to ask them who they were, what they were doing.

“They were all dressed in black and camo.”

Muldoe said the vehicles nearly hit two people.

Rick Conners, president of GFI, told APTN News the company did not have knowledge of the action.

According to Conners, frustrated GFI employees took the initiative to retrieve company vehicles in a late night clandestine operation after being prevented from using the trucks to fulfill work obligations.

“Employees took matters into their own hands because we were losing jobs and people were being laid-off,” Connors said. “They went in there at two o’clock one night.

“They walked in the back road that the protestors didn’t know about- the back entrance, and they got the keys, they all jumped inside the vehicles, started the trucks, and drove them out.”

The vehicles belonged to Gitxsan Safety Services (GSS), a subsidiary of GDC, and the trucks were needed for work on the company’s other projects.

Conners said the RCMP were there by the side of the road.

“I’m happy to say that it was a non-event for an evening,” he said. “Outside that it surprised everyone and that we got our vehicles out of there.”

Conner said that it was the actions of frustrated employees who wanted to avoid any more work stoppages or lay-offs.

“My employees they’re pretty emotional about this stuff too,” he said. “And you got to know that I had to lay-off three people that very first day, two of which were relatives of these protestors. They were pretty disenchanted with the whole thing.”

The dispute erupted four days before the late night event.

At a community meeting on Aug. 20, members of Wilp Nikate’en decided to blockade the entrance to a Gitxsan Forest Inc. property.

They’re upset that the mill on the property has been dismantled and sold for scrap.

The Gitxsan Nation consists of up to 65 Wilps, or houses, which are then divided among four clans.

Wilp Nikate’en want a meeting with Gitxsan Development Corporation (GDC), the parent corporation of GFI, which Connors is president and CEO.

GDC is owned by a trust held by the Gitxsan Nation.

According to its website, it belongs to the “Gitxsan people. Its structure is unique to the business world, melding the traditional governance of the Gitxsan, to the contemporary needs of global businesses.”

Along with demanding a meeting with executives, they also want to be provided with financial documents, notified of all present, future, and past operations in Nikate’en territory, and request to know why the mill was dismantled.

On Aug. 21 Conners and two GDC board members, Hereditary Chiefs Jim Angus and Sadie Harris, visited the site and they were given a handwritten letter outlining demands.

Conners said they were there about three-and-a-half hours.

The activists also want acknowledgment that the mill and compound is on their traditional territory.

“We’re not going to leave until they acknowledge that we are the owners of this territory,” said Victor Robinson, Wing Chief of Wilp Nikate’en.

Conners asserts that the property in question is private.

According to his interpretation of the Delgamuukw decision, a 1997 Supreme Court of Canada ruling, Aboriginal Title does not include private property.

He even goes so far to say that the activists, including their hereditary Chief, are disrespecting their own Wilp.

“I heard a lot of misuse of a chief’s name, Nikat’een, which Frances Sampson holds that name, however, there were also three other chiefs there and I received calls from other chiefs that told me that if she is claiming that is her land,” he said.

“It’s not her land. My whole purpose is to stay uninvolved in-house business, in Wilp business. I’m here to basically create economic development for the Gitxsan if there is a house business issue I run away. I run away out of respect.”

Conners said a few chiefs function outside that system to the disappointment of many chiefs.

“I’m about the Ayookw, I`m about respecting their cultural values,” Connors said. “And I’m also about making sure that I follow the law as far as the province of B.C. is concerned.”

Conners uses the laws of B.C. by seeking an injunction.

The blockaders insist that the injunction was not only excessive, but Connors also disrespected Gitxsan culture by seeking the court order during a funeral feast.

“When the injunction was put into place, we had asked Rick Connors and a couple of Gitxsan board members to defer filing an injunction until after we dealt with a death in our house group,” said Robinson.

“The board members said they would but didn’t. Either that or Rick didn’t listen. So he went to court on the day of the funeral and feast and filed an injunction for our house group to leave our spot here.”

The still valid injunction was in place on Aug. 29 and the RCMP set the boundaries. Then the RCMP came back again and had them move.

With the injunction enforced the blockaders have been reduced to the role of picketers.

They are situated on the road across from the property and are using signs and engagement to raise awareness as the temperatures continue dropping.

Creating jobs is their end-game but Conners insisted the mill is wrong for the type of lumber and fibre of the region.

He said even if it were suitable, it has been damaged by years of vandalism and theft.

Robinson said Wilp Nikate’en can develop the land if GDC has no desire to.

“It seems they have abandoned it because they have sold everything,” said Robinson.

“And it’s no longer any use to them so there should be no issue transferring title to Nikate’en so we can develop it.”


Tags: , , , ,

6 Responses to “Gitxsan industry meets Gitxsan activism in B.C.”

    Edward Green October 12, 2017 at 4:33 am #

    The sawmill in question was purchased by the Gitxsan people for the Gitxsan people.
    During meetings held in prince George by the Gitxsan chiefs the subject of all the teen suicides within the Gitxsan territories was discussed, and a solution to address the problems were also discussed. It was decided by the Gitxsan Chiefs to appoint two people to address the problem and find solution’s.
    The people appointed were Edward Green and Cam Stevens who were later joined by Calvin Lee. Identifying the problem was the easier of the problems.
    After many meeting and interviews of young people the one main topic was that there was no hope for the future. With a failing education system that pushed the young people through the system with out giving a proper education and no employment in the Hazelton’s and the surrounding villages and municipalities. With no skills and having to leave homes the young people were and still are looking at dismal futures. Thus the suicides.
    It was decided that there was a need to create an opportunity for employment and training so a site was needed to offer these opportunities and a plan was developed to purchase the south Hazelton sawmill from the owner Barry Tyre.
    An offer was made to Mr Tyre by Edward Green . One dollar and the Gitxsan would assume the debt load that was owed to the government. While in negotiations the provincial government seize3d the south Hazelton assets for monies owed and the negotiation began again but this time with the provincial Government who now owned the mill.
    An agreement was finally reached and the provincial sold the sawmill to the Gitxsan People. The sawmill was placed under the Gitxsan Forest Enterprises incorporated as an entity was needed to transfer ownership to, this was not a permanent plan.
    The plan was to bring a group together with an individual from each reserve and municipality within the Hazelton area. This group would then work together to start up the sawmill and all of the training facilities that was needed to insure the futures of the young people.
    During these planning stages The Gitxsan Development Corporation was started with Mr. Connors and Mr. Krusniski as President and vice president. These two individuals also appointed themselves board members of the corporation. The GFEI company also fell under the jurisdiction of GDC. All of the plans were turned over to Mr Connors and Mr Kursilniski along with the feasibility studies. Experts were brought in to examine the facilities and ascertain whether the machinery was still in good shape. 11 million dollars had been spent on upgrades to the mill before it was shut down.There was a promise by Mr Connors that the sawmill would be running shortly and every year the same promises were made. This year however there were no promises and no meeting have been held to discuss the plans for the mill. An employee from GDC leaked out some information that the sawmill would be torn down and sold for scrap.
    Logs from the Gitxsan Forests will continue to be shipped overseas and jobs will be shipped overseas. we have nothing. Our children will continue to commit suicide and live off of the small amount of dollars received from on reserve social service, which amounts to approximately 165 dollars a month. this is the real story.

      Sharon October 12, 2017 at 9:25 pm #

      Haamiiya- Kwagawil(Ed Gree) it has always been about the children and the future
      True chief

    Sherry Wright October 12, 2017 at 2:37 am #

    The title has our family house name incorrect. Its Nikate’en. Not ending in “m”. And Rick Conners. Not an “o” at the end.

    • Mark Blackburn October 12, 2017 at 6:10 pm #

      Thank you. It has been corrected

    Lorinda October 12, 2017 at 2:15 am #

    #GitxsanWantAnswers like our FB page for more information regarding our assertion of our daxgyet. Everyone else calls it a protest or blockade.

    Sherry Wright October 11, 2017 at 8:47 pm #

    APTN first blush at understanding our complex assertion of our Section 35 right to Gitxsan governance and institutions according to our indigenous worldview and its relevance and application in today’s society. A living culture, resilient and steadfast to the core, going against the will of a multi-millionaire, Wilps Nikate’en and Niisto, a family, fighting for their lands and people. Hamiya APTN