Gitxaała Nation: People of the Salt Water
JFK Law works closely with Gitxaala Nation to advance its Aboriginal rights and title in the face of unprecedented proposals for oil and gas pipeline projects in its traditional territory. The Gitxaala people are leaders in the legal challenges against the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project and are actively asserting their rights in a number of LNG projects.
The Gitxaała Nation is located on British Columbia’s Northwest Coast. Gitxaała people have continuously and extensively occupied their traditional territory and have undertaken their distinct culture and governance system within it for centuries. Today, Gitxaała’s main village is located on Dolphin Island, in the community of Kitkatla. In Smal’gax, the language of Gitxaała, the community is known as Lach Klan. There are twenty-one contemporary Gitxaała Indian Reserves located throughout Gitxaała’s traditional territory and many more traditional villages, camps, spiritual sites, harvesting sites and places associated with historical and legendary events throughout Gitxaała’s traditional territory. Gitxaała people refer to themselves in Smal’gax as Git Lax Moon, which means “People of the Salt Water”. This name reflects the fact that Gitxaała’s way of life – from the traditional marine foods that sustain Gitxaała members to the complex inheritance and legal systems that form the basis of Gitxaała society – finds its origin and enduring strength in the waters and marine resources within the Gitxaała traditional territory. Gitxaała’s distinct culture, spiritual practices and belief system, social and political institutions, and legal system remain interwoven with and inseparable from its traditional territory and the resources within it. Gitxaała did not sign a historic treaty with the Crown and is not participating in the modern-day British Columbia comprehensive treaty process. Accordingly, they have not ceded or relinquished any aspects of their Aboriginal rights and title.
Resource Development in Gitxaała Territory
Change is coming to Gitxaała’s traditional territory. As a result of the current focus on exporting oil and gas from Canada’s west coast, Gitxaala has seen an unprecedented number of projects proposed in its traditional territory. These include the proposed Northern Gateway Pipelines Project, numerous liquefied natural (“LNG”) gas export terminals and pipelines, as well as mining, forestry, wind farming, and port expansion projects. The potential risks imposed by these projects include adverse effects to Gitxaała’s lands, waters, resources, and Aboriginal rights and culture, as well as the authority and jurisdiction Gitxaala’s hereditary leaders exercise over the traditional territory.
Northern Gateway Pipelines Hearings
JFK Law Corporation represented Gitxaała in Canada’s environmental assessment and consultation process for the proposed Northern Gateway Pipelines Project. This work involved strongly advocating for Gitxaała in both the hearing process and in consultations with Canada about the project. Working with JFK and a team of expert advisors, Gitxaała was recognized as one of the most active participants in the review of the Northern Gateway Pipelines Project and one of the project’s most formidable opponents.
Judicial Review of Northern Gateway Decision
Now that the federal government has approved the Project, Gitxaala continues to be a leader in the legal battle against the proposed Northern Gateway Pipelines Project. Working with JFK, Gitxaała has filed two judicial reviews of the Project, and one appeal. The challenges are based on Canada’s failure to consult Gitxaała about the Project and the infringements the Project will cause on Gitxaała’s Aboriginal rights. Gitxaała expects the Federal Court of Appeal to hear these challenges some time in 2015.
LNG Development Environmental Assessment
In addition to the Northern Gateway Pipelines Project, Gitxaala is participating in more environmental assessments of LNG-related pipelines and facilities than any other First Nation in British Columbia. JFK is coordinating Gitxaała’s participation in these assessments as well as related consultation processes and negotiations with government and industry. In doing so, JFK works closely with Gitxaała Environmental Monitoring, a band-run agency, as well as a team of experts and consultants.