Gwaans, who also goes by her English name Beverley Clifton Percival (right), and Skayan (Anita Davis) (left) sorts through eviction notices that the Gitxsan First Nation is delivering to companies involved in resource-based industries such as logging. Travis Lupick
At her office in the small town of Hazelton, Clifton Percival said her people are prepared to apply their eviction notices to the Gitxsan’s entire territory, an area nearly three times the size of New Jersey. It’s unclear what force the eviction notices carry, but the recent court decision raises the possibility they may have teeth.
“We saw the devastation of forestry practices through the ’70s and ’80s,” she said. “That is why there is opposition to Enbridge, that is why there is opposition to LNG. … We need to be looking at these issues and understanding what the real implications are on the ground.”
Clifton Percival said the emerging consensus among Gitxsan chiefs is that the environmental risks of the proposed LNG pipelines are too great. The projects would conclude at terminals that would be constructed in estuaries, where a leak or any kind of industrial accident would devastate wild salmon populations, on which the Gitxsan depend for their traditional way of life.
“Our interests are primarily water and fish,” Clifton Percival said. “That is what we will go to battle for.”
On a recent visit to a fishing camp on the Skeena River, she stopped to meet with other Gitxsan and discuss a code of conduct for how additional eviction notices should be served. She stressed civility and respect.
“We are peaceful, we are nonviolent and we do not want confrontation,” she said. “The liability for all of this action rests on Canada and British Columbia. We are in a very strong position now.”
Federal and provincial government officials declined interview requests. In emailed statements, they said relations with First Nations people remain positive and that negotiations are ongoing. “The Government is committed to ensuring that Aboriginal communities and governments are fully engaged in the responsible development of major energy infrastructure projects,” Michelle Aron, a communications officer with Natural Resources Canada, said in an email.
But an Aug. 6 meeting in Hazelton between Gitxsan chiefs and representatives of British Columbia’s sportfishing industry gave an indication of how far apart the two sides remain on issues significantly less complicated than multibillion-dollar energy projects.
The Gitxsan peoples complain that their traditional fishing grounds are crowded with sportfishermen who come from as far afield as the southern United States. Every year, the province issues more than 40,000 sportfishing licenses. Now, the Gitxsan say they will no longer recognize those permits.
After nearly an hour of discussion, Luutkudziiwus (Gordon Sebastian), executive director of the Gitxsan Treaty Society, let his frustration show.
“Let’s get to the issue: You’re evicted,” he said. “You’ve had a good 50 years. But it’s come to a head.”