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Chiefs ban RCMP’s ‘militarized’ squadron from Gitxsan lands in northern B.C.

March 9, 2023

Community-Industry Response Group not welcome on Gitxsan lands, say chiefs

Gitxsan blockade of CN rail lines near New Hazelton in early 2020 erected in support of Wet’suwet’en opposition to the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline. (File photo)

First Peoples Law Report: Clearwater Times – Gitxsan hereditary chiefs issued a notice this week prohibiting the RCMP’s ‘militarized squadron’ called the Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) from Gitxsan lands centred in the Hazelton area, effective immediately.

“While we embrace safety measures for our community, the militarized squadron of the RCMP [the C-IRG] funded to the tune of $50M, have been sent to terrorize our people at the barrel of a gun during peaceful protests and blockades,” the notice reads. “They have been sent to destroy our Indigenous way of life on our lands.”

Brian Williams, a head Gitxsan hereditary chief and spokesperson, told The Terrace Standard that while work to develop a community safety plan with the RCMP is going “very well” the Gitxsan people are afraid of the C-IRG.

READ MORE: RCMP, Gitxsan hope to avoid trouble when court orders are enforced

The Gitxsan Huwilp Government, comprising 48 chiefs, recently signed an unprecedented agreement with the RCMP for a community safety plan addressing Gitxsan resource issues. The goal of the plan is to prevent or de-escalate safety crises between the RCMP and Gitxsan people on their lands.

But the head chiefs of the Gitxsan Huwilp Government also do not want the C-IRG sent to the 35,000 square kilometres of territory in northwest B.C. that is Gitxsan asserted territory, with signatures and motions to that effect. “We’re a peaceful people and we’re not trying to hurt anyone on our lands and the C-IRG, they’re usually in full fatigues, carry lethal weapons and have dogs,” said Williams.

“We just find them quite scary and we don’t want to see anyone hurt. This is a reaction to fear in our community of the terror C-IRG can bring to our Gitxsan lands when they’re in full fatigues with weapons and dogs.” So far Gitxsan activism within the Hazeltons in the past several years has been limited to rail blockades in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en natural gas pipeline protesters in 2020.

But Williams foresaw potential scenarios that could result in increased police response. When asked whether the local New Hazelton RCMP detachment would be as well equipped to deal with such situations as the C-IRG, Williams expressed hopes the community safety plan will stop things from getting to that point.

Despite the RCMP being obliged to act as ordered by a supreme court justice and having direct discretion as to how and when an order is enforced, Williams says the Gitxsan maintain discretion to not include enforcement by the ‘militarized’ unit. “We need to maintain safety in our community,” Williams said. “We don’t want to see a dead Indian because a militarized squadron is trying to break up peaceful protests or blockades “We maintain that militarized aggression against the Gitxsan people is reserved for the Parliament of Canada to order if authorized under the Federal Emergencies Act.”

For its part, the RCMP says on its website that the C-IRG was created in 2017 to “provide strategic oversight addressing energy industry incidents and related public order, national security and crime issues.”

Its stated mandate is for consistent, standardized and impartial police responses to such issues across B.C. “The C-IRG uses a measured approach in facilitating the peaceful resolution of public disorder issues. They proactively engage all stakeholders through open communication and meaningful dialogue.”

Williams says ongoing discussions with RCMP have been positive since signing the safety plan agreement. “We’re moving ahead very well. We’re working very closely with chief superintendent Warren Brown because he’s leading the discussion and planning with hereditary chiefs,” said Williams of Brown who is the top RCMP commander in northern B.C. “We’ve met two or three times already and we’re hoping to meet again in April to test how we can lay out this playbook and address issues as they come forward. We don’t want the C-IRG army back on our territory again.”

For Williams, the core of the issue is about industry’s duty to consult with the Gitxsan before moving ahead with any development on their territory. There are currently no pipelines going through Gitxsan land, however, a proposed pipeline supported by the Nisga’a Nation to supply its proposed Ksi Lisims LNG facility might touch the northern part of Gitxsan territory.

“It’s about pipelines, it’s about mining, it’s about logging; it’s all about the consultation process or the non-consultation process that sometimes occurs. “Industry have to consult with the head chiefs and they need to meet with the head chiefs on revenue sharing. There needs to be some kind of compensation at the end of the day.”

While Williams thinks industry has gotten better at consultation in general recently, he stressed that Gitxsan territory includes all the resources that are on that land; the minerals, the water, the fish the wildlife and forests.

“If they’re trespassing, well, we need to address that because we don’t trespass on each other’s Laxyip, which means territories identified on maps, but we call it Laxyip.”

ALSO READ: Watchdog investigating how B.C. RCMP unit handles resource project protests