Gitxaała hearings begin with emotional appeal from Chief Nees Hiwaas
As the Nation begins a two-week hearing at the BC Supreme Court, RAVEN reports on their landmark mining case – the first to consider the enforceability of BC’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.
Conrad, Jamie-Leigh, Caitlyn, Levin met up at the Sutton Place Hotel for a press conference hosted by Gitxaała and West Coast Environmental Law.
Says Campaigns Director Conrad Young, “After a welcome song for the Gitxaała Peoples, Chief Nees Hiwass(Matthew Hill) shared how the relationship of his people and their respective clans have a relationship similar to one grandparents have with their grandchildren: caring for the Earth in such a way that it reflects the sacredness of the two. Grandparents to grandchild, and People with the Earth. To only take what is needed, not to exploit the land. To leave things intact so that they will be able to experience the Gitxaała way of life in sync with the land.”
Gitxaała’s case argues that BC’s outdated practice is inconsistent with constitutional requirements as well as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which BC has legally committed to implementing through their own legislation, DRIPA (Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples).
“By giving away the mineral rights that are part of our territory, the Province has broken both our laws, and their own,” said Gitxaała Sm’ooygit Nees Hiwaas (Matthew Hill).
Next, Jessica Clogg of West Coast Environmental Law spoke about the Doctrine of Discovery, and how though they repudiated the values it encompasses, the Vatican has not renounced its legality and intent. She also spoke to thank the RAVEN community for continued support in this litigation, as an ally for the six of the intervenors in the case.
The RAVEN team then walked with the Gitxaała representatives to the BC Supreme Court. Once there, there was a delay because, due to the large number of attendees, a new, larger courtroom needed to be booked. “Once the case convened, we sat in the gallery to watch Chief Nees Hiwass lead with a statement to the courts and a cultural prayer to open the hearings,” said Conrad.
“We watched lead lawyer Lisa Fong showcase the Gitxaała culture and how it illustrates nationhood. She spoke to land title and exclusive powers held by the traditional governance of the Gitxaała Peoples. It was very well portrayed and delivered in a manner of eloquence. It was a pleasure to see all the lawyers for the Crown have to listen to the explanation of Title and governance that was never ceded or surrendered and is still in operation to this day under Chief Nees Hiwass, and will continue with his nephew and his sisters son in the future.”
“Lisa also expressed how the Mineral Tenure Act and its free entry system interferes with the transmission of these ancient protocols. The land Nees Hiwass’s descendants will inherit to govern will effectively be already poisoned.”
In a press briefing, Gitxaała Sm’ooygit Nees Hiwaas underscored this. “By giving away the mineral rights that are part of our territory, the Province has broken both our laws, and their own,” he said.
“Despite the reported progress and new relationships promised when the government signed DRIPA into law, the Province continues to give away mining rights in our territory without our consent. This impacts our ownership, governance and use of our lands, and interferes with our right to make management decisions and to choose our own priorities.”
We are so grateful to the community members and leadership of Gitxaała, and to the RAVEN community for standing with them. Donations to the challenge are being TRIPLED while the Nation are in court, and to the end of April. Learn more about this case and give at https://raventrust.com/gitxaala.
The full case will be heard over two weeks at the BC Supreme Court, from April 3-14, 2023.
photo ©West Coast Environmental Law