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COMMENTARY · 22nd February 2013
Merv Ritchie
Corrected 5pm 22/02/13 Its one down and one to go for the success of the Canadian and British Columbian Governments to complete the destruction of the largest, most powerful Nation on Canada’s West Coast.

Ten years ago the Tsimshian Nation was once again united after the DIA (Department of Indian Affairs) kept the Nation divided by arbitrary boundaries such as the DIA District Councils and later, after 1972, by Tribal Councils. After 1972 the Tsimshian were kept separated by three representative bodies; the North Coast Tribal Council, the Terrace District Tribal Council and the Bella Coola Tribal Council.

Following historical efforts to unite as the strong proud Nation they are and were, in 1989 the Tsimshian Tribal Council was formed. Eighty years earlier, in 1909, the Tsimshian had joined with the Gitxsan and the Nisga’a to resolve their collective land claims issues under a united banner called the Indian Tribes of BC. This was eventually outlawed in 1926 by Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell Scott after a successful land claims presentation in Ottawa. Scott wrote the Residential School legislation, the anti potlatch laws and made fund raising to pursue land claims, as well as legal representation for Indians on land claims, an illegal activity.

Roughly 10 years after the Federal DIA changed the names of the Councils from ‘District’ to ‘Tribal’, transferring some administrative authority to the Indian peoples, on July 28, 1983, the Tsimshian once again initiated their land claims case.

After six years of growing pains the Tsimshian were finally able to put their differences aside in 1989 and unite under a strong banner, the Tsimshian Tribal Council. This was largely successful for over ten years until the Liberals under Gordon Campbell became the government in BC. With Skeena MLA Roger Harris as the Vice Chair of the select standing committee on Aboriginal Affairs, this new government initiated separate discussions with the individual Tsimshian communities, once again dividing the Nation. This was the start of the Incremental Treaty Process and the Liberals used the coastal fishing claims of the Kitselas and Kitsumkalum to anger the Lax Kw’Alaams such that they initiated a lawsuit against these new negotiations.

Gerald Wesley, who had been the chief negotiator for the united Tsimshian Tribal Council, began two new organizations, which in effect further isolated the communities from each other rather than unite them. The Northwest Tribal Treaty Nations organization and a new society of Tsimshian communities excluding the Lax Kw’Alaams and the Nine Allied Tribes ensured the Tsimshian Nation would remain divided.

The Northwest Tribal Treaty Nations group came to a sudden stop after the Provincial Government transferred the rights to TFL #1 (Tree Farm Licence) to Lax Kw’Alaams. Wayne Drury represented the new Coast Tsimshian Resources logging interests and the hostility between them and the Kitselas and Kitsumkalum was heightened as they too bid on TFL #1 with other local Terrace contractors.

The Liberal government effectively initiated two divisive tactics; a fishing territory conflict, which today has Kitsumkalum still attempting to secure land and fishing territory away from the Lax Kw’Alaams, and initiated a lumber war, which in effect had the local lumber denied to the new sawmill in Terrace. The Liberal initiated Tsimshian war continues today and as Treaty talks continue without Lax Kw’Alaams engaged, Kitsumkalum may secure common fishing grounds, via treaty, away from other Tsimshian peoples. The success of this will further hostilities.

After being voted out of office, Roger Harris continued to work with local First Nation communities. As Vice President of Enbridge Northern Gateway he signed an agreement with Elmer Derrick of the Gitxsan Nation. Hereditary Chiefs and Village Councils have been in court for five years attempting to stop Elmer Derrick and his organization, the Gitxsan Treaty Society, from claiming to represent the Gitxsan people. Harris, through a new company called Palmer Harris, has developed an extensive research paper on who to negotiate with regarding the local Northwest First Nations people. It details all the names and hereditary people one must work around, how to get confidentiality agreements signed and provides various templates for industry to use to negotiate separately with the Villages apart from the Nations. Today Harris is the President of the Kalum Quarry.

Gerald Wesley has continued to receive a salary through the Provincial Government via the BC Treaty Commission and the new society he started in 2004. Today he recommends Kitsumkalum also vote in favour of the Agreement in Principle (AIP) he negotiated after over seventeen years in the process. It would seem the greatest success of Wesley and Harris has been to once again successfully divide the greatest Nation on the West Coast of Canada.

To have Kitselas, the gate keepers of the Tsimshian Nation, the Canyon heroes of old, succumb to this trickery of divisionary politics is a shame. As one Hereditary Chief stated at an All Candidates forum this past week (after the result of the Kitselas vote), he wouldn’t put it past the Provincial Government to heap trinkets and benefits on Kitselas now, during the lead up to the vote by Kitsumkalum on the AIP, in an effort to convince this second Tsimshian community to betray their ancestors.

Divide and conquer, it is the oldest trick in the book.

A detailed historical reference with attached documentation here
The front page of the Tsimshian National Voice in 1996
The front page of the Tsimshian National Voice in 1996
Gerald and Mark 17 years younger - on the right in 1996 and on the left in 2012 - Mark still prefers the same style suit it appears.
Gerald and Mark 17 years younger - on the right in 1996 and on the left in 2012 - Mark still prefers the same style suit it appears.