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Gitxsan History of Resistance
18 March 2010
10,000+ years ago - Archaeologists have dated village and cache sites to be more than six thousand years old. Occupation by the ancestors of the Gitxsan is estimated to predate those findings by thousands of years. The land is maintained according to traditional laws, and overseen by House chiefs who ensure that their House territories and people are treated with respect and balance.

1830 - B.C.'s aboriginal population drops to 70,000 due to epidemic disease brought by Europeans. The population was estimated to be several hundred thousand strong prior to contact.

1859 - Gold seekers pour into the north using the Upper Skeena as a transport and access point.

1865 - Collins Overland Telegraph to Russia is built up the Bulkley Valley from Quesnel to Kispiox before the project is cancelled.

1868 - Hudson's Bay Company builds a trading post next to Gitanmaax.

1870 - Gold is found in the Omineca River area. For two years, hundreds of prospectors travel up the Skeena and along the Babine Trail to reach mines.

1871 - B.C. enters Canadian Confederation yet refuses to cede control of Crown land to the Federal government. Ottawa also discovers that only a few treaties with aboriginal groups exist in B.C. Most of B.C.'s Crown land was thus improperly acquired. According to the Royal Proclamation of 1763, Ottawa had responsibilities to ensure that Crown land be legally acquired from aboriginal groups through the negotiation of treaties.

1872 - A dozen long houses and crest poles at Gitsegukla are burned to the ground by European prospectors camping nearby. Miners refuse to discuss compensation as required by Gitxsan law. Village chiefs blockade the Skeena River traffic. Two gunboats are sent to the mouth of the Skeena. Gitsegukla chiefs meet on the water with Lieutenant Governor Joseph Trutch. Compensation of $600 is granted. The blockade is lifted.

1874 - Gold rush in the Cassier Mountains. Again, the Skeena route through the chiefs' territories is used.

1876 - Canada's Governor General, Lord Dufferin, protests B.C.'s refusal to acknowledge aboriginal title problems.

1876 - The Gitxsan give a cool reception to a joint federal-provincial commission appointed to look into the allocation of reserves when they visit Kitwancool, Gitanmaax, Kispiox and Glen Vowell. The chiefs refuse to cooperate in the naming of village sites or burial grounds for reserves until the question of aboriginal title is addressed. The reserves are set up regardless. B.C. allocates 10 acres per head of household for natives. Non-natives are allowed to claim up to 320 acres per person. Gitxsan are prohibited from taking Crown land without permission of the lieutenant governor.

1883 - Gold is found at Lorne Creek. Kitwanga chiefs, fearing that the prospectors are disturbing game, post notices on trees around camps announcing that the miners are on 'Indian' land. They are ignored and 'Indians' are told to leave the area.

1884 - Royal Commission into 'Indian' land question fails to settle land issues in part due to B.C.'s refusal to discuss the fact that aboriginal title continues to exist.

1884 - A.C. Youmans, a freighter for local miners, fails to notify and compensate a Gitsegukla family for the drowning of their son, Billy Owen. Three years earlier, Billy's brother had also been drowned while in Youmans' employ and Youmans had also refused compensation then, despite it being required by Gitxsan law. Billy's father, Haatq, kills Youmans and is sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

1884 - Feasts, the central political and social institution of the Gitxsan culture, are banned by the federal government. Anyone caught feasting can now be jailed, as can non-natives who have knowledge of a feast and fail to report it.

1887 - Second Royal Commission into B.C. Land Question fails to settle the issue of Aboriginal title. Again, the province refuses to sit down to negotiate.

1887 - Haatq, arrested in 1884 dies in New Westminster prison. The Gitxsan are denied compensation.

1887 - Kamalmuk kills a man suspected of witchcraft against his family. He is shot in the back by police who come to arrest him. Demands for compensation by his Kitwancool family are ignored. Anger at Kamalmuk and Haatq's death threatens to lead to a general uprising against the non-native presence. Additional police are called in.

1888 - An attempt is made by an Indian agent and a Constable to enforce the ban on feasts in Kitwanga. It is unsuccessful.

1889 - Babine Agency of the Federal Department of Indian Affairs is formed to channel village protests. Victoria had complained that the federal government was not participating enough in dealing with the "unrest." R.E. Loring, one of the police constables involved in the Kamalmuk case, is named the first Indian agent in the area.

1889 - Federal Fisheries Act is passed. Aboriginals are no longer allowed to sell fish or own fishing licenses. Natives who work for fish companies are paid five cents a fish while non-native fisherman are paid ten cents a fish.

1890 - Reserve allocations begin in B.C. by reserve commissioner P. O'Reilly and his surveyor A.H. Green, while most chiefs are fishing on the coast. Clear opposition emerges to the allocation of reserves at Kispiox and Kitwanga. O'Reilly promises that all "Indians" can continue to "hunt, fish, or gather berries where you will."

1893 - Gitxsan are encouraged to burn their regalia, part of a Christian purification process.

1893 - Rocks are blasted out of the Skeena to improve streamer traffic. At Gitsegukla, the fishing sites and smokehouses of five families are destroyed.

1893 - Reserve commissioner O'Reilly returns to continue allocating reserves. He continues to receive a cool reception.

1897 - New reserve commissioner A.W. Vowell receives a letter from Kitwancool chiefs saying "they do not want him there." He arrives the following year but rather than receiving land measurements he is given demands for compensation, and a tombstone for Kamalmuk, killed in 1888.

1898 - Chief Johnny Muldoe of Hagwilget finds a hollow, clay-lined pit at a depth of 4-5 feet. Under a stone, within the pit, he finds 35 stone batons – 2 feet in length – intricately carved with birds and fish. A.W. Vowell, B.C.'s superintendent of Indian affairs, takes them. All but three are lost. No compensation or explanation is given. Some of the batons are later found in US museums and private collections.

1901 - B.C. legislation provides provincial volunteers in the Boer War with scrip, a claim paper for a free homestead of 160 acres of "unoccupied, unclaimed or unreserved land" anywhere in the province. Land around Canyon Creek, Round Lake, Tyhee Lake and in the Telkwa River valley is sold to settlers by speculators who had bought scrip. First Nations are evicted from their traditional lands, even though they had clearly plowed the fields, and built barns and homes on the land.

1905 - Mathias, a Wet'suwet'en boy from Moricetown, is killed while working with the Dominion Telegraph Company. Two non-natives are arrested to settle the "Indian uprising."

1905 - Squamish chief Joe Capilano and his delegation of chiefs spread word of their audience with King Edward VII in London. The English King had told them that aboriginal proprietary rights in the land are to be restored but only through Ottawa's intervention.

1906 - Fish weirs on the Babine River are forcibly removed by Federal Fisheries Department workers. Nine men who own and use the weirs are arrested and charged with theft, illegal fishing and resisting arrest. One is acquitted. The others opt for jail time over fines and are sent to prison. This confrontation forces a meeting between Native representatives and the Federal cabinet to discuss fishing grievances. Nothing is resolved.

1906 - Simon Gunanoot and his cousin Peter Himaden are accused of the murders of a non-native and a mixed race man on the Babine trail. They evade posses, police and the Pinkerton agents for 13 years. In 1919, they finally walk out on a promise of a fair trial and are acquitted on both counts. However, Gunanoot spends time in Ocalla prison waiting for his trial.

1907 - Provincial Game Act is enacted to stop beaver hunting for period of six years. The Gitxsan lobby for temporary exemption.

1908 (June) - Gitxsan contribute money to send Joe Capilano and 25 Gitxsan Chiefs, including Charles Wesley of Kispiox, to visit PM Wilfred Laurier with a land rights petition. Grand Trunk Railway continues to be built through the territories. Non-natives in and around Hazelton dig rifle pits and trenches in expectations of an "Indian uprising." Indian agent promises another land grievances commission and tension is diffused temporarily.

1909 (June) - Kitwanga villagers stop a group of surveyors at gunpoint and demand a meeting over land grievances. At the meeting they use quotes from the Royal Proclamation of 1763 as part of the basis for their claim. Kispiox chiefs paste notices forbidding non-natives from crossing the Skeena River.

1909 (July) - Laurier government finally sends out the two-man commission promised in 1908, made up of Stewart and Vowell, to discuss grievances. Wet'suwet'en present a list of 29 specific clashes with non-natives over hunting grounds. Gitxsan present their claim of Aboriginal title. Neither group's complaints can be settled without the province, which continues to refuse to discuss title. Discontent is aggravated as the commissioners leave. The Province does agree to non-native requests for more police to protect their newly settled property.

1909 (November) - Kispiox chiefs block a road construction crew at gunpoint. The crew foreman responds by throwing two Gitxsan in the river. In retaliation, the Gitxsan seize the crew's equipment. Seven Gitxsan men are arrested after rumors of a "secret" uprising meeting prompts a dawn raid on Kispiox by more than 40 policemen.

1909 - Local DIA inspector notes that in the Skeena area the "land trouble" is "more acute ...than in any other part of B.C."

1910 - Kitwancool and Kitwanga chiefs pin notices of their aboriginal claim along the trails in Hazelton district and invoke the Royal Proclamation of 1763 to challenge non-native presence.

1910 - PM Laurier comes to Prince Rupert to hear the chiefs' complaints.

1910 - A Gitxsan chief is chosen to join the delegation of B.C. chiefs petitioning King George V on land grievances.

1911 - PM Laurier demands B.C. acknowledge the problem of aboriginal title in the land question. B.C. refuses. Laurier must settle for a second joint land commission.

1911–1916 - The second joint federal-provincial land commission, headed by B.C. Premier McBride and Federal representative McKenna, visits local communities to hear land complaints. The issue of aboriginal title is raised frequently. The commissioners refuse to deal with it, as it is not within their jurisdiction. Chiefs express anger at again being let down.

1920 - Indian Act amended to require compulsory attendance of aboriginal children in schools so "there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question." – Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent of Federal Indian Department.

1920 - Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en hire a lawyer to challenge beaver hunting restrictions. Protests go unresolved as Provincial game wardens enforce the Game Act.

1923 - Fisheries Act is amended so that aboriginals can apply for the same fishing licenses as non-natives.

1924 - Gitxsan and Nisga'a chiefs meet PM Mackenzie King in Ottawa to discuss land claims.

1927 (April 14) - Ottawa, frustrated by constant aboriginal petitioning regarding the B.C. land question, decides to allocate $100,000 to B.C. for Indian technological training, a hospital and the promotion of agriculture and stock raising. This was in lieu of negotiating the usual treaty over aboriginal title. It remains on the federal account books to this day as the "B.C. special."

1927 - 1951 - The federal government then washes its hands of B.C. aboriginal claims and passes an amendment to the Indian Act making it illegal to organize around the land question or to advance any land claim. They also make it illegal for any lawyer to work on such a case.

1927 - Kitwancool chiefs are sent to Ocala prison for resisting government attempts to draw reserve boundaries around the village without discussion of aboriginal title.

1927 - Indian agent orders the RCMP to suppress feasts at Kitwanga and Kitwancool. Their attempts fail.

1929 - B.C. aboriginal population is estimated at 22,000 after epidemics of smallpox, measles and influenza.

1948 - B.C. aboriginals granted voting rights in Municipal elections.

1949 - B.C. aboriginals granted voting rights in Provincial elections.

1958 - Fisheries department, without consultation, dynamites rocks in Hagwilget canyon on Bulkley River. Fishing sites that had been used for thousands of years are destroyed. Promises of salmon shipments every year to make up for lost food stocks are never met. Only one shipment of sockeye is ever received.

1961 - Canadian aboriginals granted voting rights in Federal elections.

1974 - Jury selection amended to permit selection from on-reserve voter's lists. Up to that point juries never included on-reserve Indians even though the largest percentage of the B.C. population in jail or charged with an offence is aboriginal.

1975 - Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs begin research to launch another formal request to negotiate their land claim with the Federal government.

1977 - Federal government officially accepts the Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en declaration of claim to their territories. However, negotiations cannot proceed so long as B.C. government refuses to acknowledge their responsibilities.

1984 (October 24) - Gitxsan & Wet'suwet'en launch a historical legal action in B.C. Supreme Court, Smithers. In an effort to get B.C. to deal with the land issues, they challenge B.C. jurisdiction over their 22,000 square mile territory. Costs are estimated to be $20 million in legal and research fees. Villages themselves pay the bulk.

1985 (November 29) - Gwiis Gyen, Stanley Williams, stands in front of a train on main line to Prince Rupert to force CNR to compensate Gitwangak for 100 acres taken from the reserve in 1910. Grand Trunk Railway was built through the village cemetery. The blockade last more than two weeks.

1986 (July 3) - Federal Fisheries Officers are sent to reserves to uphold Ottawa's ban on inland fisheries. B.C. also supports commercial and sports fish organizations against local village fishing. B.C. government adopts the ridiculous position that reserve grounds are under federal jurisdiction while the ground underneath rivers on-reserve is provincial land so they too have the right to control native fishing. Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en go fishing without permits. Expecting a confrontation, heavily armed fisheries officers arrive and are pelted with marshmallows when they dare to interfere.

1987 (May 11) - Opening arguments are made in Delgamuukw versus the Attorney General in the Smithers Court House. Chief Justice Allan McEachern presides.

1987 - B.C. Supreme Court refuses an injunction against new logging on Crown land while Delgamuukw versus the Attorney General is in court.

1988 (February 11) - Frog clan chiefs of Gitwangak issue notice to Skeena Cellulous and Tode Lake Logging that their chief Luulak, Sandra Williams, does not permit any more logging on her territory. Eagle clan chief Giila'wa, Peter Turley, is asked by Luulak to move the company's front-end loader off her land. He is charged with possession of stolen property. The community protests. Charges are dropped.

1988 (February 29) - Chiefs place huge cedar tree across Kispiox Valley logging road. Wii Seeks, Ralph Mitchell, and Wii Muugalsxw, Art Wilson lead the blockade. Both chiefs' territories are in the valley.

1988 (April 12) - Gitwangak chief Glen Williams earns the distinction of becoming the first B.C. "Indian" to face charges of conducting a bingo without a permit. The money raised was to be used to pay the mortgage on the tribal council office and to build a new elementary school.

1988 (May 5) - Westar Timber begins to build a road into the Salmon River area. The logging crew are warned that they are trespassing on chief Quoimts territory. Westar had been asked to discuss plans for logging with the chiefs. All the chiefs received were instructions to remove the traps from their trap lines.

1988 (Fall) - Gitxsan blockade road at Pine Nut Creek to stop logging while court case is in progress.

1988 (September 15) - Westar begins to build a bridge over the Babine River at Sam Green Creek. Blockade camp is set up with demands that construction end while court issues are being settled.

1988 (October 4) - B.C. Supreme Court places a temporary injunction on Westar to halt bridge building at Sam Green Creek.

1988 (October 5) - Justice Alan Macdonell gives the chiefs a victory over Westar. No bridge at Sam Green Creek can be built so long as the land claims case stands before the courts.

1989 (June) - B.C. Court of Appeal again finds against Westar for continuing to log on lands under dispute.

1989 (July) - Eagle clan and their chief, Giil'wa, warn Skeena Cellulose against unauthorized logging in region.

1989 (Fall) - Kitwancool chiefs protest unauthorized logging at Kitwancool River Bridge and Mill Creek.

1989 (October 13) - Chiefs of northern territories order a stop to unauthorized activities in the Suskwa region, a vast unlogged district. Gitxsan Chiefs roadblock the Suskwa Main Road.

1990 (Summer) - Kitwanga chiefs blockade the bridge over the Skeena and the highway into the Kitwanga Valley. The CPR train is stopped at Kitwanga to bring attention to continued failure of CPR to discuss 1911 land expropriation. The road to Kitwancool is blocked to protest continued logging. Moricetown sets up an information blockade regarding the court case.

1990 - B.C. Premier Bill Vander Zalm arrives by helicopter at Kitwancool to speak about the concerns over land. He continues to ignore demands that B.C. sit down to talk about land claims.

1990 - Kitwanga Mill is taken over for three days to protest continued logging during the court case.

1990 (November) - Premier Vander Zalm announces the establishment of a Ministry of Native Affairs and an Office for Land Claims. B.C., for the first time in history, agrees to begin negotiation over land claims, but again, without any recognition of aboriginal title.

1991 (March 5) - Delgamuukw v. The Queen is decided in favor of the B.C. government by Chief Justice Allan McEachern. He describes aboriginal life as "nasty, brutish and short" and announces that aboriginal title, if it existed at all, was extinguished in 1858. Academics, a UN committee and media commentary express shock at the reasons for judgment.

1991 (April) - Chiefs launch an appeal of the decision. The estimated cost to pursue the case is $5 million, to be raised by government, church and individual grants and donations. Logging begins anew in the disputed territories.

1993 (June 25) - The B.C. Court of Appeal announces Delgamuukw appeal decision. Eight aboriginal cases are tied to the announcement. Judges overturn McEachern's 1991 ruling that aboriginal rights were extinguished. All five judges ruled that aboriginal rights were not extinguished before or after confederation and that they are protected by the Constitution. Ruling expected to give First Nations groups across B.C. - who are just beginning to enter treaty negotiations with the provincial and federal governments - a much stronger bargaining position.

1994 (February) - Delgamuukw case is accepted by the Supreme Court of Canada.

1994 (June 13) - The Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en adjourn their court case for 18 months in order to negotiate with the B.C. Government on matters of jurisdiction, ownership and self-government of their traditional territories. Chiefs Delgamuukw and Gisdaywa, Premier Mike Harcourt and four provincial ministers sign an Accord of Recognition and Respect.

1995 - Frustrations at the continuation of logging while treaty talks are under way, and the lack of a mandate for B.C. negotiators at the treaty table, result in blockades by Gitxsan chiefs in the Suskwa and at Sterritt Creek.

1996 (February 1) - Province walks away from the treaty table with Gitxsan, choosing litigation over negotiation.

1997 (December 11) - Supreme Court of Canada rules in favour of the Gitxsan, setting a new legal precedent for proof of aboriginal title, placing oral history testimony (adaawk) on the same level as written testimony and describing the type of consultation process, and compensation, that must occur if aboriginal rights are infringed as a result of a government decision.

2001 (Spring) - BC returns to the treaty table discussions with Gitxsan and Canada.

2001 (Summer) - BC Liberals win the provincial election and subsequently take the issue of governance off the treaty table.

2002 (April) - Meetings are held by the Gitxsan in Saint Peter's Anglican Church, Hazelton, B.C. regarding legal strategies needed to apply the Delgamuukw ruling to their frustrations over not being able to negotiate on governance at the treaty table.

2002 (May 2) - A petition is filed at BC Supreme Court, Smithers, regarding the provincial award of timber licenses covering a vast area - or the entire Gitxsan territories - without proper consultation or compensation as described in the Delgamuuk decision.