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Hereditary Chiefs and elders from Haisla and other NW First Nations communities stand on the Court House steps in March 2009, at a hearing where former BC Premier Gordon Campbell was represented.
COMMENTARY · 2nd October 2011
Merv Ritchie
The Court decision ruling released last week was better than the defendants, who were found ‘guilty’, expected. Had the Judge found them in the right, the issue might have died right then. Now the defendants have what they need to further their claims.

A letter released by the Kitamaat Village Council last week, September 29, 2011, (attached below) stated:

“The over-riding purpose of this lawsuit by the Council members was vindication of their reputations.”

Three paragraphs later the letter states:

“It is significant that the judge specifically rejected arguments that the dispute between the plaintiffs and the defendants was a struggle between the band council and the hereditary chiefs of the Haisla Nation.”

This paragraph ended quoting from paragraph 25 on page 9 of Justice Punnett’s introduction in the 261 page ruling.

“The Judge found they were ‘merely a small group of dissidents who sometimes referred to themselves as the Strategic Alliance Committee’.”

The full two paragraphs where this finding by Justice Punnett is introduced, copied directly from the ruling, is as follows;

[24] The defendants attempt to characterize this matter as a struggle between the band council and the hereditary chiefs. They allege that the band council was, as an Indian Act entity, restricted to dealing with administrative matters affecting the operations of the band. They argue that the hereditary chiefs remained the governing authority for all other matters such as negotiations with third parties respecting band lands, treaty matters and economic development. They allege the KVC operated without sufficient transparency and failed to keep the electorate informed.
[25] In doing so, the defendants purport to represent the hereditary chiefs. However, as will be discussed, they were merely a small group of dissidents who sometimes referred to themselves as the Strategic Alliance Committee.

The above statements and claims would be laughable (in fact personally I did laugh as I read these idiotic statements) if it didn't have such a serious objective.

It was the Kitamaat Village Council that did the suing and it was three of the Haisla Nations four highest hereditary Chiefs they sued. The forth, the highest Hereditary Chief of the Haisla, Chief Jassee (Tom Robinson) was represented by his daughter Sandra and she was included in the action filed against the Hereditary Chiefs. Morris Amos was asked to represent the Hereditary Chiefs as their speaker in the efforts to protect their rights and also stood to speak for them in the court.

One must comprehend this completely before I move on to the next humour.

The Judge and the Kitimat Village Council state this wasn’t a fight between the Hereditary Chiefs and the band Council when it was a court action between the band Council and the Hereditary Chiefs.

To be completely clear, this is the heading of the court action

Between the Plaintiffs;
Steve Wilson, Margaret Grant, Jonah (Keith) Nyce, Ellis Ross, Kevin Stewart, Rod Bolton, Ken Hall, Alex Grant Sr., Godfrey Grant Jr., Henry Amos Sr., Henry Amos Sr., and Kitamaat Village Council

And the Defendants;
Janice Georgina Alice Eleanor Switlo, John Wilson Sr., Allan Williams Sr., Morris Amos, Sandra Robinson, Wendy Bolton, Harvey Grant Sr., John Doe, Jane Doe,
Richard Roe, Jane Roe, and Jennifer Grant Howard, also known as Jennifer Grant

All of the Plaintiffs listed were Kitamaat Village Band councillors, and of course as is listed, the band council itself. Steve Wilson, the first name listed, was the Kitamaat Village Chief Councillor at the time.

All of the defendants listed were working for or on behalf of the Hereditary Chiefs.

Janice Switlo was a legal representative (called a helper) selected by Harvey Grant Sr.; Chief Wiseks head of the Killer Whale Clan of the Haisla Nation. John Wilson Sr. is Chief Sunakhead head of the Eagle Clan of the Haisla Nation and Allan Williams Sr. is Chief Wakas head of the Raven Clan of the Haisla Nation. Morris Amos was originally asked by two of these high hereditary chiefs (Wiskas and Sunakhead) to work and speak for them. Chief Wakas later also accepted Amos as his speaker. Sandra Robinson represented her father’s interest, Tom Robinson, Chief Jassee head of the Beaver Clan of the Haisla Nation and high Chief of all the Chiefs of the Haisla Nation. The other two defendants listed, Wendy Bolton and Jennifer Grant Howard were referred to by the Judge himself as minor players (simply witnesses to the letters and activities) and the John/Jane Doe; Richard/Jane Roe names were added by those suing in case someone else came along (persons unknown) while the proceedings were under way to include them in the case.

For Justice Punnett to state, “the defendants purport to represent the hereditary chiefs. However […] they were merely a small group of dissidents” when they were all the highest Hereditary Chiefs of the Haisla Nation disrespects every First Nation in British Columbia.

Justice Punnett had stated in the previous paragraph, “The defendants attempt to characterize this matter as a struggle between the band council and the hereditary chiefs.” How could it be seen any other way? The only “attempt” to mislead is by attempting to characterize this as something different than a struggle between the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) elected band council (the Kitimat Village Council) and the true Haisla Nation Hereditary Chiefs. Justice Punnett takes almost two years, 261 pages and a ruling made long after the trial was over, to do just that.

But here is the second bit of humour. I stated there was more to come!

The letter sent out by the Kitimat Village Council has a new header, "Haisla Nation Council". Yes, the INAC elected Village Council has connived and convinced by request, to have INAC bestow a new name on them. This is the final extermination attempt by the Canadian Government (through INAC) and the British Columbian Government (through the BC Supreme Court) of the Hereditary system of Government of not just the Haisla Nation but of all First Nations Hereditary Authority.

On January 18, 2011, INAC wrote to the Kitamaat Village Council advising them they had completed changing the name on all the legal documents;

Dear Chief and Council
Re: Band Name Change Request: Kitamaat to Haisla Nation

I am pleased to advise that your current band name change which had been made in the Indian Registry System has also been made in legal instruments where the former band name appeared.
Yours sincerely
Allan Tallman
Indian Registrar

All throughout the trial the Haisla Nations Hereditary Chiefs argued about their status being over ruled by the Steve Wilson Council. The consultations required between the Hereditary Chiefs and the Village Council were not made and it was revealed Wilson was making secret arrangements. Wilson’s secret deals on a Hydro electric power project to be constructed on Chief Wakas trap-line territory was also discussed extensively at the trial.

The secret discussions and or agreements with; Alcan to tie into their powerline, with the President of BC Hydro to purchase the power, with the International financiers (including Milton Wong) and the exposed secret deal with BC Premier Gordon Campbell were all discussed. This verbal arrangement with Campbell was exposed in a letter Wilson hand delivered to the Premier, which described how he got his Hereditary Chiefs to stand aside for Campbell so he could achieve the approval of the Haisla Nation for the Alcan power sales deal.

"I have more than lived up to my promise and I expect the Province to live up to what it has promised me. That includes what BC Hydro has promised for the Haisla to take a neutral position on the EPA at the BCUC Oral Hearings!" wrote Wilson in this letter.

With all this evidence exposed at the trial it is a curiosity how Punnett could make such ridiculous and absurd statements. This letter to Premier Campbell was delivered just after Wilson’s Council 'fraudulently' used the rubber signature stamp on the letter to withdraw the Hereditary Chiefs desire to be involved in the BCUC hearings.

The entire trial revolved around these issues. The Hereditary Chiefs discovered Wilsons secret deals and decided to take action to protect their people and their traditional lands. It was the Raven High Chief, Chief Wakas, whose land and river was going to be used for the proposed Hydro electric facility. He was never told about it.

They only found Switlo (their legal helper) after they discovered all these secret deals. They urgently, within hours, composed a letter to register themselves as interveners at the BCUC Hearings. This was on September 26 of 2007 and faxed to the BCUC as soon as it was completed and signed to beat the deadline. Immediately after it was received by the BCUC Steve Wilson rushed back into the Village and hurriedly arranged a meeting for the next day, September 27. With as many Chiefs as they could gather, Wilson and his councillors berated and yelled at those gathered claiming the Kitimat Village Council is the authority. They demanded they retract the letter the High Chiefs sent to the BCUC. This is all evidence delivered in the trial and discussed in the ruling.

Only one high hereditary Chief suggested he might agree with Wilson and only two were present; John Wilson Sr. and Harvey Grant Sr. The one that suggested he might agree, Grant, stated they would first have to hold a High Chiefs meeting. It was also discussed at the trial how Grant may have given up his authority to speak as a High Chief.

That didn’t stop Steve Wilson and his Council. They already had a letter drafted and, according to an explanation letter from the Kitamaat Council Lawyer, Donovan and Company, to High Haisla Chief Jassee on October 20, 2007, his signature stamp had been applied to this first draft of the letter;

"The signature stamp was also used on an unsent draft of the letter dated October 2, 2007 to the BC Utilities Commission and on that letter itself. On this occasion the stamp was not affixed by Steve Wilson but rather by Deputy Chief Councillor Margaret Grant." wrote Allan Donovan.

But again this minor fact didn’t stop the Justice, “As it developed, the stamp was not used on the first copy of the letter.” wrote Punnett on page 20 at paragraph 78.

Both Chief Jassee (Tom Robinson) and Chief Sunakhead (John Wilson Sr.) passed away during the trial. Each made their views known for the courts before they died. The court records Chief Sunakhead as stating they needed to stop the band council and how he believed the BCUC hearings was an avenue to effect this. Chief Wakas considers himself the last man standing for the people and for the Haisla Nation to protect their land for the next hundred generations. He is of the older generation and Chief Wisaks is in poor health. Wakas fears for the future.

The letter released by the Kitamaat Village Council on September 29, 2011, is now considered, legally, the Haisla Nation Council. They stated they were vindicated and were delighted. In any other setting this would be considered a coup d'etat, the take over of one government by another. They included the statement, “It is significant that the judge specifically rejected arguments that the dispute between the plaintiffs and the defendants was a struggle between the band council and the hereditary chiefs of the Haisla Nation.” This statement seems to be included, because like all styles of takeovers, peaceful or violent, the victors get to write their version of events, no matter how misleading and deceptive.

This was nothing short of a coup d'etat by the INAC elected Chiefs who are completely owned by the Government of Canada. The action is being justified with this ruling by Justice Punnett that has holes as wide as a dump truck to drive through. Every First Nations group across BC and indeed Canada, and beyond the Canadian boundaries, are opening their eyes, reading the Court ruling and studying all the reports written while the trial was proceeding.

It is not trite to mention the following, it is of considerable significance.

Even though this trial included; secret arrangements with the Premier of BC which were exposed in the BC legislature, the highly contentious BCUC hearings of the power sales issue of Alcan, the names and characters of international significance and even though we contacted almost every competitor media in the region prior to the trial beginning (forgoing the 'scoop'), none attended. Not one other media attended and covered this incredibly significant trial.

However, now that the trial is over after two years of waiting for the Justice to deliver his verdict in favour of the INAC elected Chiefs, the media now cover it as if they understood the issues and it was all just a defamation trial.

This was billed as a defamation trial but it was anything but. It was a trial of First Nations Authority over their lands. After the Delgamuukw ruling in 1997, the BC and the Federal government have been struggling to find a way of getting past it. The original BC Trial Judge in the Gitxsan Wet`suweten trial of Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, McEachern, called the Hereditary Chiefs and their way of life "nasty, brutish, and short".

Punnett is treading close to this very same line. The one thing he did do was analyze all the letters, dozens, and extract from them all the statements which could be considered defamatory. He then found every excuse in law, every precedent available to show how the statements made by the Hereditary Chiefs and their helpers were defamatory. He needs to be applauded for such a masterful piece of legal research and the usage of the case law. Reading it all would make anyone’s head spin, that is if you are not legally trained.

Punnett however began the whole affair with one single error. This was an internal struggle between the authority of the Hereditary Chiefs and the Authority of the INAC Band Council, not as he stated "merely a small group of dissidents."

Today we see the result; the Kitamaat Village Band Council has applied for and been granted the new title of Haisla Nation Council.

Nothing could be clearer. The question now, with this conclusion, will Enbridge and every other international company be able to take over Haisla Nation lands and Douglas Channel, as well as being used as a precedent to take over all First Nations lands in BC? This Haisla Land is also part of the Asia Pacific Gateway Corridor Plans. Even BC`s new Premier Christy Clark came to talk about their plans for the future. Will the next council that doesn’t allow a development be unelected in two years by a Council that does agree to allow it? How much money will it take to buy compliance?

This decision, in other words, is the catalyst needed to unify all the First Nations in BC. The defendants, who the Plaintiffs are delighted to have beaten in this Court decision, are even more than delighted, they are ecstatic. A draw or a wash, no ruling either way, would have left the Haisla peoples in disarray with the Council continuing to take authority wherever they choose. Today they are facing a galvanizing opposition of not just Haisla, but the entire aboriginal world.

For more details, the full ruling by Justice Punnett and all the reports regarding this action from 2008 to the present day, including a copy of Steve Wilsons secret letter to BC Premier Gordon Campbell, click here.

Note this letter to Gordon Campbell, of 2007, is on letterhead from the Kitimat Village Council where the letter attached below, dated September 29, 2011, is on letterhead from the Haisla Nation.
Hesquiaht Ha-wiih
Comment by Hesquiaht Hereditary Chiefs on 24th October 2011
We share simular paths! Hesquiaht Ha-wiih (4 top hereditary chiefs) proposed to step in when band council elections failed and were not consistant with elections policy. 5 subordinate seat holders stood with the chief councilor elect in support of the elections outcome over stepping the Tyee Ha-wilth's (head chief) authority. Hesquiaht Ha-wiih have been subjected to verbal & mental abuse at every meeting we oraganized. INAC & Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council & Hesquiaht Band Council have disregarded the herediatary chiefs authority prompting us to rethink who we were up against. Hesquiaht Band Council states to be up against Canada & B.C. but in reality all 3 institutions are of the same. The Chief & Councils have funding and power to alienate hereditary chiefs from any and or all funding much to the chagrin of Canada & B.C.! Our nation states that Hesquiaht Ha-wiih are nothing without their people as are our Hesquiaht people are nothing without their hereditary chiefs. I stand with and support all Hereditary Chiefs Rights & Title of every nation. Canada & B.C. could not exterminate our people with imported epidemic disease and surely they will not defeat our highest Government, the Hereditary Chiefs.
kitamasat village band council
Comment by gwilson on 2nd October 2011
The community of kitamaat villge is still split over the previous kitamaat band council lawsut over the hereditory chiefs. how could a judge make a ruling on inside politics. they are out of line. wasn't there a ruling that allows residents to question the band councils without reprizal. i thought that canada bought the reserves in canada basic human rights.
is this big buisness manipulating local politics to their favor.
Rest In Peace, Uncle Tommy.
Comment by Janice P. Robinson on 2nd October 2011
Charles Cecil Robinson, Sr. was my Dad. He was one of Tommy Robinson's older brothers. Dad died in 1967, and that ended all visits from my uncles.....and I am estranged from my Haisla cousins.

Uncle Tommy was Dad's last surviving brother .......and I just read here that he has passed. My belated condolences to my Haisla cousins.

I remember their handsome faces and beautiful voices. I treasured the ground Dad walked on, and can say he shared a few good visits with Uncle Tommy. Now, they're all finally reunited, and more alive than all of us put together!