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Gitxsan petitition forest tenure transfer decision
02 May 2002

Gitxsan petitition forest tenure transfer decision

Gitxsan Territories — May 2, 2002

The Gitxsan filed a petition today in front of the BC Supreme Court in Smithers for a judicial review on the province's decision to transfer forest tenure on the Gitxsan traditional territories in northwest B.C. from Skeena Cellulose to NWBC Timber.

"We want a stay on any action until the government comes and talks to us about our interests and how to accommodate our interests," said Gitxsan legal council Anuthlem buhn (Gordon Sebastian).

The petition, filed by eight Gitxsan hereditary chiefs on behalf of all Gitxsan, states that the province is in breach of its constitutional and fiduciary obligations by consenting to the transfer of control of the forest tenure without proper consultation as outlined by the Supreme Court of Canada's Delgamuukw decision. It also asks the province to supply a number documents that relate to consultation, such as any agreements between BC and NWBC Timber on the tenure transfer.

"No key documents were forwarded to us. We don't know what happened in the background regarding grants or concessions the province gave for the next 20 years," said Anuthlem buhn. "We've been ready since 1982 for meaningful consultation. In this case of transfer of forest tenure, none of the House groups were ever invited to a meeting to deal specifically with the effect on their territories."

If the approval goes ahead, a strategy of raw log export by NWBC Timber means the Carnaby sawmill that is part of the deal won't reopen leaving more than 150 local residents out of a job in an area experiencing upwards of 90% unemployment.

"The success of this petition will be a benefit to everybody in the area, Gitxsan and non-Gitxsan alike," said Gitxsan Treaty Office executive director Catherine Blackstock. "If the deal goes ahead raw logs will just roll out and we'll be left with an empty territory again. The resources and employment need to stay locally."

The Gitxsan will use the fact that they pursued a court case for 13 years resulting in the creation of a new legal test for aboriginal title under the SCC's Delgamuukw decision to strengthen their arguments under the petition that a judicial review of the tenure transfer is necessary.

"Although the Gitanyow injunction hit a wall, ours is a different case," said Blackstock. "We have no choice but to take a stand on this deal — even if the court system is a barrier for us."