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COMMENTARY · 11th May 2012
Merv Ritchie
A bold headline declares “Treaty Talks Lack Fish Deal” but then fails to deliver any details on why. It fails to mention the reason the Treaty talks began again was on the basis of a “Fish Deal”. It also fails to provide any details on the divide of the Tsimshian Nation over fish. It even fails to reference the demands by the Provincial Government to exclude portions of the Tsimshian Nation if they wished to continue Treaty talks. And to add to the lack of information they ignore the lawsuits issued regarding the Fish negotiations.

It is a wonder how some media can pretend to be media.

In the 1990’s, prior to the Gitxsan – Wet’suwet’en success in the Supreme Court of Canada, which reaffirmed the title all First Nations still had over their traditional Territories, treaty talks had been underway. The Tsimshian were united under one banner, the Tsimshian Tribal Council. After the Supreme Court ruling, positions taken by the Federal Government, the Provincial Government and all First Nation Treaty tables went into a pause for reassessment of their respective positions due to the ruling.

In 1999 five of the seven combined Tsimshian reserve communities presented position papers on proceeding with treaty talks but, as Kitkatla and Hartley Bay did not participate, the provincial Government did not want to proceed. The NDP were the BC Provincial Government at the time and they wanted to deal with the Tsimshian Nation as a whole, not piece meal.

When the BC Liberal party became government they were all too happy to take this on piece meal and work with a divided nation. In 2002 Kitsumkalum and Kitselas, (the two reserve communities discussed in the local newspaper article), agreed to begin again, apart from the others, with fisheries. These two reserve communities decided to part ways with the other Tsimshian and negotiate a treaty with the Provincial Government and specifically over the right to have access to the Salmon harvest.

The other Tsimshian were outraged. Lax Kw’Alaams almost immediately launched a lawsuit. As the negotiating teams began to sit down again to discuss the issues the Provincial Government refused to participate if the Lax Kw’Alaams were present as a lawsuit over the fishing rights had been launched.

Kitsumkalum and Kitselas decided to continue anyways.

This was the beginning of all the trouble between the Tsimshian and the Provincial Government of Gordon Campbell exacerbated these issues.

When the logging industry was deliberately shut down by the Campbell Government they handed over the Tree Farm Licence (TFL 1) to Lax Kw’Alaams. This land involved substantial portions of the Kitsumkalum and Kitselas traditional territories.

The internal division of the Tsimshian was a deliberate and well executed plan; Fish/Waters – Trees/Land.

At the time these efforts were under way, the MLA in the region was Liberal Roger Harris. Harris went on to work for Enbridge Northern Gateway. He signed the first deal on behalf of Enbridge with the Gitxsan involving Elmer Derrick and the GTS. It was this deal which precipitated the huge division and court battles within the Gitxsan Nation. The Gitxsan had proven in Court (Delgamuukw) their traditional laws and traditional Hereditary Chiefs were the legitimate land owners, that the land was still theirs and had never been surrendered. Working to divide the Gitxsan and destroy their hereditary law would be advantageous to government and industry.

The Haisla Nation found themselves in court when the Hereditary Chiefs attempted to stop their local Band Council from making deals with Alcan, BC Hydro, the BC Utilities Commission and special secret arrangement with BC Premier Gordon Campbell. A Band Council member admitted to fraud yet still sued the Hereditary Chiefs for defamation. Today the Haisla have almost completely destroyed their position on the rights to their territory using the 1997 Delgamuukw ruling; the Village Council actually claimed their Hereditary system no longer exists. Today the Band wishes supreme authority and is calling themselves the Haisla Nation council, not the Kitamaat Village Council.

The Tsimshian Lax Kw’Alaams represents numerous Tsimshian communities called the Allied Tsimshian Tribes. In 1989 they amalgamated with another Tsimshian group called the Council of the Tsimshian Nation and formed the Tsimshian Tribal Council. This was a successful united group until the BC Liberal Government intervention and divisionary tactics. It was this new BC Treaty Commission which determined treaty discussions could be broken up into sections. This new policy allowed the “Fish Deal” issue to be started separate and apart from the rest of the treaty discussions.

After the lawsuit was initiated by the Lax Kw’Alaams, in response to Kitselas and Kitsumkalum attempting to negotiate a treaty for fishing rights without them, the entire Tsimshian Nation has fallen into a state of pronounced division.

And it began all over fish.

For the local paper to address an article titled “Treaty Talks Lack Fish Deal” and neglect to introduce or discuss any of these important factual details is to do a disservice to everyone, First Nations and non-First Nations.

Presently the Lax Kw’Alaams are part of (head up) another Society called The North Coast First Nations Society (NCFNS), formerly called the North Coast Tribal Council (NCTC), This society is specific to fisheries and the Tsimshian membership in the Northern Native Fishing Corporation (NNFC). Each reserve village (member) is required to pay $25,000 as an application fee to belong.

Nothing is as it seems. A trivial article, which does not provide context, current or historical is a tragedy. A “Fish Deal” was at the beginning of the new Treaty negotiations and has been at the demise of the Tsimshian. The new society, The Kitselas, Gitga`at, Kitsumkalum, Metlakatla, Kitasoo-Xaisais Treaty Society, was set up in 2004 at the behest of the Campbell Government to deliver funds ($1.5 million annually) to the societies Executive Director, Gerald Wesley, to distribute evenly after taking 10% for his office and fees. The current “Treaty” debt to the Tsimshian Nation is between 20 and 30 million dollars.

With no “Fish Deal” in the new treaty arrangements it would seem the success of the original objective is in question.

As it is, all the northwest First Nations are being set up to fight within and without. Money is an easy tool.

Divide and conquer, it is the oldest game in western domination.