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CONTRIBUTION · 19th January 2012
Neil Sterritt
Recent events show that the Gitxsan Treaty Society (“GTS”) is no longer a credible, accountable or effective representative of the Gitxsan Nation. After 17 years it is badly in need of reform. However, given its stigma in the Gitxsan community, we probably need a new organization based on a mandate agreed to by the Hereditary Chiefs and the Gitxsan people.

The fiasco relating to the Enbridge announcement and its proposed Northern Gateway pipeline was the last straw for almost all of the Gitxsan hereditary chiefs and the vast majority of the Gitxsan people.

Moreover, the December Enbridge announcement was a clear example of senior employees failing to separate their management role from their community member role, regardless of their status in the community. In this case, the chief negotiator had no right to finalize any agreement, let alone an equity participation agreement. In a properly run organization, the board of directors would convene an in-camera meeting, discuss the problem, and hold their senior employee (CEO or executive director) accountable for a problem as serious as this one is. This hasn’t happened at the GTS.

Yet the Chief Negotiator and the GTS board seem to think it is business as usual. This week the Chief Negotiator announced he is negotiating a $160 million renewable energy project with Enbridge (Three Rivers Report, January 11).

Now, Judge McEwan has said the GTS has an “invalid board” because it has no members (Spookw vs GTS, Smithers Court, Jan. 9). The GTS was founded in 1994 in order to begin treaty negotiations under the BC Treaty process. It has not delivered on those results and it is increasingly out of touch with the needs and goals of the Gitxsan people. Instead, it appears to be operating on the basis that it has replaced the authority of the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs and can finalize agreements without their approval, or that of the Gitxsan people.

Over a period of 17 years, the federal and provincial governments have “loaned” the Gitxsan people about $20M to negotiate a treaty, and we have nothing to show for it. The job of the GTS is to negotiate a treaty and bring back the results of those negotiations to the responsible Gitxsan decision-makers – the hereditary chiefs — and ultimately, all Gitxsan people. The management or Board of Directors of the GTS are not the decision-makers on matters that will affect the Gitxsan for generations.

Given the renewable energy project, an invalid board, Executive Director and their negotiators seem to delight at being “in the face” of the Gitxsan people.

There is increasing pressure on the Gitxsan and their traditional territories from other governments and from resource companies. It’s time for change at the GTS to ensure that it is accountable and can effectively do its proper job. The Gitxsan Nation needs that, and so do those with whom it negotiates. If the Gitxsan aren’t effectively represented by an open and transparent GTS, we, the Gitxsan people, lose.

The management and board have not welcomed new directors who ask relevant questions. Rather, they are ostracized.

Overall, it means that the management controls what happens, and there is no oversight.

Through divide and rule tactics, and holding the purse strings, they prevent positive and necessary change.

The result is that the GTS has little accountability, if any, to the Gitxsan clans, the 65 Gitxsan chiefs, or the Gitxsan people.

The controversy has led to the GTS office being blockaded, an injunction, and considerable debate. The problems are complex. The GTS has said that there are only 26 ‘voting members’ for 17 years, and does not open the door to new members. And for all that time, membership has been tightly controlled by GTS management.

The Society Act, and the GTS’ constitution and bylaws, have clear requirements for members, general meetings, board meetings, control of management by the board, financial records and accountability, minutes, and related matters. The basic framework for any organization.

Is the GTS complying with those requirements? The GTS isn’t doing their job, and isn’t accountable to the Gitxsan people, or to the mandate it was given in 1994. Only a thorough independent governance audit and financial audit, and a review of all the society’s records, would tell the full story. The sooner that happens, the better.

Taking this first step is critical both for the Gitxsan themselves to be able to have effective governance and also for the broader community and governments to ensure that there can be certainty in the negotiations with the Gitxsan.

Neil Sterritt is a Gitxsan Nation member and was involved in the Delgamuukw v. Regina Court case between the BC Government and the Gitxsan Wet'suwet'en, which resulted in the declaration of First Nations authority over their lands and the need to consult.