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Issue Papers

11 March 2010

ISSUE - This question has been asked, "Can anyone ratify an agreement on Gitxsan rights and title - on your behalf, or make changes in your status, without your having a voice in that change?"

You have the vote

At some point in negotiations with Canada and BC, the issue of a change in status of every Gitxsan will have to be voted on. Only you, as a Gitxsan person, can ratify (and make valid) any proposed agreement to keep your rights and title to your lax yip, or to continue your life under the Indian Act. Canada, BC and the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs will require that every person of Gitxsan descent must have an opportunity to vote on this issue. That is, to ratify or approve - by a vote - a treaty regarding Gitxsan rights and title. Ratification is defined as:

"To give formal approval to something - usually an agreement negotiated by somebody else - in order that it can become valid or operative."

33.000 sq kin (lax yip)

In the current negotiation process, the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs, Simgiigyet, (authorized by the Delgamuukw decision to reconcile the pre-existence of Gitxsan society (1846) with crown legislation and in the BCTC tripartite process) have authority based on the ayokim Gitxsan to represent the Gitxsan people:

1. The Hereditary Chiefs sued the Province for 33,000 sq km under the Gitxsan land tenure system - on behalf of himself/herself and members of his house, wilp. (Delgamuuw, '97; Yal et a!, '02)

2. The governments have legally recognized the hereiitary system in three agreements: GWA Fisheries Agreement (22 years), Interim Forest Agreement, Short Term Forest Agreement (2006) and the Kemess Environmental Assessment process, 2007.

3. The hereditary chiefs of each of the 9 watersheds are in creation for all people in the area and revenue sharing between wilp and corporations/government departments. Legal tools have been created such as trusts, corporations and policies. (i.e., Suskwa, Gitsegukla and Gitwangak)

4. In 1987, at a Gitxsan Convention, the hereditary system took over full representation of 13,000 members of wiphl Gitxsan according to the ayookw (Gitxsan laws). Your Simogyat is your leader and you show your support in the feast hall - by contribution.

Historically, between 1977 and 1987 the Gitxsan were represented by the elected chief councilor in each of the eight bands, including Hagwilget and Moricetown - known then as the Gitxsan Wetsuwet'en Tribal Council (Indian Act). In that tribal council only 8 people voted in the executive, including the president. (Band members were not allowed to vote.) This ended in 1987.

This Gitxsan alternative is best understood through economics rather than politics, although both elements are center to its origins and its effects. However the choice is in your hands, no one has the authority to make that choice for you.