Update: Minister John Rustad responds via Twitter..(see end of post).
In June of 2015, I wrote about a brewing scandal on Haida Gwaii, after a Facebook post appeared on the website of the Haida Council accusing Enbridge of offering cash to individual Hereditary Chiefs for their signatures on term sheets supporting the Northern Gateway Pipeline.. That original post is linked here : http://www.bcveritas.com/index.php/2015/06/30/time-to-call-in-the-rcmp-has-enbridge-offered-bribes/
More on Haida Gwaii in a minute, but a strikingly similar controversy has erupted in Gitxsan territory, and the new one has much closer ties to the BC Government in the documentation. When I started this blog, I never thought I would write so much about First Nations issues and energy companies. I’m well aware that my knowledge in both areas is inadequate to the task and I have many more questions than answers. I invite answers from all sides… submit a comment, mark it confidential and it will not be published. I really want to know…. My questions will finish this post.
Due to great work by Discourse Media, and exposure of actual term sheets in Haida Gwaii, we now know what was being offered was money for a group of six Hereditary Chiefs to use via a trust fund. The trust would be devoted to promoting cultural activities in the territory.
The entire paper trail is not available, because the signed copies of the term sheets haven’t been published. A trust was formed by the chiefs accused of betraying the Haida Nation, and letters of support to the NEB for granting an extension to Northern Gateway’s applications were sent signed by those Chiefs. In other words, the fundamental things Enbridge asked the Chiefs to do were carried out, and the suggested trust fund was formed.
Discourse Media’s Trevor Jang sums it up here: http://www.towardreconciliation.discoursemedia.org/investigation/documents-raise-questions-negotiations-enbridge-haida-hereditary-chiefs/ Two of the Hereditary Chiefs named in the documents have been stripped of their status. It’s a huge action taken by the Haida which hasn’t happened there in hundreds of years… A similar action only occurred in one case in all of BC in the 20th century.
During the Royals visit in October, the Haida asked Premier Christy Clark to stay away.. (she said, “that’s ok, I’m too busy anyway”.) I don’t know, but suspect, this is one of the reasons she was not welcome on Haida Gwaii at that time.
Now to the brewing controversy among the Gitxsan. Thanks to a piece in the Smithers Interior News, linked just below, we know a trust fund totalling $5.3 million was settled on a group of 8 Hereditary Chiefs , apparently connected to support for a natural gas pipeline through their territory. The actual documents are linked in the article..Note that as in Haida Gwaii, trust is formed separately and before support from the entire First Nation (or group of Nations) is achieved.
The question therefore in both cases, is what was promised if anything, in exchange for the funds in trust?
A couple of things stand out:
“The documents were posted online after they were found in a sealed envelope outside the home of a Hazelton resident on Friday, Oct. 14.”
One of the Chiefs , Gordon Sebastian, said .. there is more information than is seen in the leaked documents.
“The numbers are true,” he said. “There is a whole arrangement there and a whole big thing that didn’t get on Facebook, that we still treasure as confidential.”
The Amdimxxw Trust was settled in June of 2016, signed by several Chiefs in September.. The Benefit Agreement between the band and the Province (with a space for Minister John Rustad to sign) is a “draft agreement” . It has not been completed. Shades of the Quickwins memo, which was drafted but never acted on.
What the Benefit Agreement does is provide a different set of financial compensations to the Gitxsan in exchange for absolution of the obligation to consult, and a promise not to campaign, speak, or act against the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project.
Now to my questions, which I think need to be asked by citizens and by media..
- In both the Haida Gwaii case and the Gitxsan case, the Chiefs acted on their own. They kept their agreements secret from the population they serve. How can it be right, or in the spirit of established Canadian Law (Tsil’qhotin), for an energy company, a government, or both , to offer financial benefits to named individual Chiefs even “in trust” without their bands’ knowledge or consent?
- Minister Rustad has surely been involved in efforts to have the Gitxsan onside with the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project. Was he aware of the “Amdimxxw Trust”?
- Was the “Amdimxxw Trust” in fact paid out prior to the Benefit agreement between the Gitxsan and the Province ? Were there any conditions placed on expenditures by the Chiefs? Was it public or private money?
- In the Haida case, Enbridge offered money “in trust” for cultural activities. What was in place, if anything, to ensure the slightest accountability for expenditure of funds? Do we think Enbridge would be motivated to monitor ?
- We expect that in negotiations with affected First Nations for support of resource activities on their lands, that the bands as a whole will be compensated for risks and harms. That’s normal. Is compensating individual leaders to act against the will of their population also normal?
- Over a year ago, I struck the analogy of secret money going to individual Municipal Council members to buy support for a controversial casino project. People would be charged and likely as not, jailed, should such a scheme come to light. Leaving aside the argument that a fund “in trust” appears to insulate the Chiefs from “receipt of personal benefits”… What should we think when resource companies or our BC Government provide funds for the secret use of a group of Chiefs within a larger affected First Nation?
- What ethical line is there that the Christy Clark government won’t cross in order to get to yes?
- We have two cases with some similarities, notably secrecy and some sort of side deal with individual Chiefs. Surely questions must now be raised in the minds of all members of all First Nations in BC about agreements already signed on their behalf. If I’m not overstating the case.. (I don’t think I am overstating).. How does the doubt cast by these incidents serve the First Nations people, the government, or the resource companies themselves?
- If the Trust was formed to compensate the Chiefs for being LNG advocates, why not hire them? Like Gordon Wilson? Then everybody would know where they stand. If the Trust was formed for another reason, let us know.
Feel free to add to this list in the comments..
Minister Rustad stated the following in response to my queries on Twitter…
1) “BC’s agreement with the Gitxsan is public on our website. Can’t answer questions about decisions the Gitxsan leadership are making “
2) “Agreement provides funds to the Gitxsan. Their leadership decided to set up a trust and make decisions.”
3) “All but 1 of Gitxsan hereditary Chiefs impacted by the PRGTL signed. Others as well. Intent of chiefs to set up trust for Gitxsan.”
The trouble with these answers is that the Chiefs who signed now apparently have to be answerable for those signatures. As in Haida Gwaii, it appears the population that makes up the nation may be more than a tad upset. Add to that the advice of Judith Sayers, who said to me Tsil’qhotin requires that land use decisions have the free prior knowledge and consent of the community, not just the Chiefs. This is true whether the Chiefs are elected or Hereditary, or some mix of the two.
This is the check and balance that prevents approaching those members of the leadership who can be “persuaded” and then running roughshod over the rest.
One thing I do NOT wish to imply is that the Chiefs were out for their own personal gain, and not to provide a benefit to their people. The trouble is all this secrecy…We know about the Trust because it was leaked to a matriarch of one of the Gitxsan clans. $5.3 million means a lot to the Gitxsan people. How does an amount like that become a surprise?
The Smithers Interior News promises more to come October 26th…Credit to John Rustad for responding to an idiot blogger.