Spookw has appealed a decision by the British Columbia Supreme Court that provides the Gitxsan Treaty Society (GTS) with 30 days to come under compliance with Section 85 of the province’s Society Act, which would then make the society a legal body.
In 2008, Gitanmaax Indian Band was joined by Gitwangak Band Council, Glen Vowell Indian Band and Kispiox Band Council, forming the Spookw, and undertook litigation against the Gitxsan Treaty Society, challenging GTS’s authority to represent the four bands in reconciliation of Aboriginal rights and treaty rights with the province of BC.
A society is necessary in order to participate in the BC treaty process, which is what prompted the formation of the GTS.
The decision rendered by Justice T. Mark McEwan is in agreement with a petition put forward by GTS in order to rectify the discrepancies between the society and the provincial legislation. GTS was given 30 days to call an extraordinary general meeting which would consist only of the voting members of GTS, who would appoint 12 new directors.
“What this was is a technical issue and the BC Supreme Court has ruled on the remedy that we proposed, the Gitxsan hereditary chiefs, so (the court is) recognizing who we are as hereditary chiefs and how we’re going to move forward on this particular issue,” said Beverly Clifton-Percival, negotiator for the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs. She points out that GTS is an administrative secretariat and does not make decisions.
“The Gitxsan have always represented themselves as hereditary people. It’s been that way for 10,000 years and that’s how they choose to represent themselves when they speak to issues around rights and title,” said Clifton-Percival. “We are hereditary people. We do not use the Indian Act bands or the tribal councils to represent us.”
Any negotiating GTS does will impact Spookw bands and that is why litigation was undertaken. The court-ordered change does not give the Spookw bands any more say in how GTS moves forward.
“GTS keeps harping on the fact that they’re using the Gitsxan laws, but by having these people speak on our behalf, we have 65 house groups and one of our laws is that nobody under no circumstances can speak on behalf of another house,” said Dianne Shanoss, executive director with Gitanmaax Indian Band.
The court-ordered newly comprised GTS will have 37 members, with only 24 chiefs, says Shanoss.
“It’s about the oppression where we’re not allowed to have a voice or have any say in it,” said Shanoss. “(GTS) are saying we benefit from their services but we have no say in it.”
Clifton-Percival says it’s an issue of hereditary versus Indian Act representation.
“When you talk about rights to title you have to talk about the issue of the proper title holder and the Gitxsan have always represented themselves as hereditary people. That is quite different from the federal Indian Act bands. And it’s the federal Indian Act bands that brought the hereditary chiefs into the court,” she said.
But Shanoss says an important distinction needs to be made.
“We’re not in court with the hereditary chiefs. We’re in court with a society that says it represents us,” she said.
Shanoss says that prior to undertaking litigation, Gitanmaax Indian Band undertook a referendum and its members voted against treaty. Five years later another vote was taken.
“The four bands did a vote last February, and 90 per cent of the four communities said, ‘No, we don’t want treaty,’ and ‘No, we don’t want GTS representing us,’” she said.
Spookw litigation will continue. Shanoss says it was the judge’s ruling that GTS was not a legal entity that sidelined Spookw’s legal action. She adds that Spookw will move forward simultaneously with its litigation as well as its appeal of the Supreme Court’s decision.