A Gitxsan house is asserting its rights in northern B.C. by installing a gate to control access to a forestry road.
The province has paused logging operations in the area as all parties talk.
Gitxsan Hereditary Chief Antgilibix sits among house or Wilp Git’luuh’um’hetxwit chiefs and members in a camp along a forestry road.
They have been re-occupying their territory since last month when they installed a gate on a forestry road.
Antgilibix said they are carrying on the teaching by her ancestors, including one who carried the chief name before her.
“We have never ever left our lands,” she stated. “Our boundaries were always taught to us, from creek to creek, Claremont creek, date creek and the mountains are our markers.
“We are taught that and as children, our Antgilibix, was her name, she was blind, and son lived here, and they maintained the land.”
Their house member numbers are building as more people arrive on Date Creek Rd near the community of Kispiox, B.C.
“With a strong house like ours, that’s coming together, with all of the spouses behind, we’re stronger,” she said.
The Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en are neighbouring nations in northern B.C.
Hereditary chiefs from both nations were part of the historic Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa Supreme Court case in 1997.
The court ruled Aboriginal title exists from ancestral use and occupation of their land.
But the judge sent it back to the B.C. courts for Gitxsan and the Wet’suwet’en to prove the title. A new trial never took place.
Since then, there have been conflicts over the land with projects like the Coastal Gaslink pipeline, which made headlines worldwide.
Git’luuhl’um’Hetxwit spokesperson Denzel Sutherland-Wilson said they are protecting their territory from potential clear-cutting.
Their head house Chief Tsi’basaa set up a gate stating they did not consent to the logging in the traditional territory or Lax-yip.
“We need to do this on our own by our own laws, on our own authority and power, not through provincial recognition or permitting. We don’t have trust for the province to caretake our territory, ” he shared.
In mid-May, the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) sent a contractor to remove the gate.
He was turned away by a group of Gitxsan house members.
The ministry responded to APTN News with an email statement saying they are in contact with the chiefs.
“FLNRO has been in constant communication with all parties involved. There has been open dialogue between government staff and Gitxsan protestors,” the statement read.
They have since paused logging operations.
“FLNRO has temporarily suspended operations in the area to allow the engagement to happen.”
The ministry has also sent a letter to the chiefs to remove the gate.
“A notification letter was sent on May 17th and May 22th to Wilp Tsi’basaa / Wilp Antgilibix in parallel with the removal advising that this unauthorized structure is to be removed,” the statement said.
Denzel-Sutherland Wilson stated the house has the right to be there.
“We have a right to control access to our territory, our ancient laws there are strict laws about trespass about harvesting from another person’s lax’ yip, and that is what the province is trying to do. Either harvest from our lax-yip or grant access for someone else to, he said.”
Wilp Git’luuhl’um’hetxwit said they are here to stay.
The logging road has become a place to live
Chief Angilibix walks along a large cabin being built near the Date Creek.
There is a covered cooking area or kitchen next to a fire pit and benches near the trees.
Della-Mae, a house member, and her spouse arrived about two weeks ago.
They have tents set up off the forestry road.
She is grateful to learn her culture here after facing difficult times with housing.
“I had nowhere to go for a while, I had nowhere to turn, but I was told I could come back home; I have a home just a lot of weight was taken off,” she shared.
Another house member, Elaine Gunanoot, has been living here on and off since 2018.
This time she brought her grandchildren.
“The children, my grandchildren, they loved it here; they have learned a lot,” she said. “They are learning the Wilp; the land is their kitchen, they know they can get their food here. They will never go hungry on the land.”
Sutherland-Wilson said as house members, they all have responsibility to take care of and make sure they have a healthy territory.
“It’s our next move in this fight that’s been going on for the last 150 years basically, but it’s also for our own healing and our peace, ” he stated.
Chief Antgililgix said Wilp Git’luuhl’em’hetxwit are coming together as a strong house supporting one another on the land.
“This is where we belong; she belongs, each and everyone one of us. The future it’s a very big territory where our family is already wanting to build their areas there,” she said.