Madii Lii: Protecting Our Territories

On Luutkudziiwus land, BC and Canada still operate as extractive resource robber-barons

Richard Wright

Luutkudziiwus is a Gitxsan House group and was one of the plaintiffs in the landmark 1997 Delgamuukw rights and title litigation. Luutkudziiwus continues to use, occupy, and exercise our rights on our traditional Madii Lii and Xsi Gwin Hauums territories, as we have since time immemorial.

Luutkudziiwus’ special relationship to and stewardship of land, water, and respective resources on our territories provides grounds for and affirms our Aboriginal rights guaranteed by Section 35(1) of the Canada Constitution Act, 1982.

However, BC and Canada still operate as extractive resource robber-barons by engaging in shabby and unethical land use practices, while paying little heed to Indigenous Peoples and their laws, customs, and practices, as if it is still 1902. This strategy of denial has been used repeatedly by governments in the past to escape dealing with aboriginal rights, including title.

Pipeline threat continues

In August 2014, Luutkudziiwus’ response to BC’s LNG Strategy was to install and shut the gate to any unauthorized development attempting to access Madii Lii territory. The proposed massive-scale LNG developments would infringe on Luutkudziiwus’ Aboriginal title and rights, including our cultural and Indigenous legal responsibilities.

The most immediate threat comes from the former TransCanada Corporation, now known as TC Energy (as of May 3, 2019). They proposed the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission (PRGT) pipeline in early 2013 to transport fracked gas from approximately 6,220 wells in the Montney Basin in northeast BC to the proposed Pacific Northwest (PNW) LNG facility on Lelu Island, located in the Skeena estuary. The pipeline would bisect Madii Lii territory and obliterate precious and ancient cultural heritage trails and sites.

Effectively, BC, Canada, and the industrial sector are in collusion to suppress Indigenous peoples’ agency and authority over their territories

Petronas, the Malaysian national energy giant, scrapped their plans for their $36 billion LNG facility in July 2017. The PRGT pipeline was cancelled as well; however, TC Energy has recently revived it, treating Indigenous groups such as Luutkudziiwus as if they had no ancestral history, legal orders, ownership, rights, or bright futures.

Cumulative effects & UNDRIP

From roughly 1970 into the mid-1990s, Madii Lii forest ecosystems were heavily disturbed by high-grade logging of the easily accessible, commercially valuable timber. This clearcut logging amounts to approximately 42 square kilometres spread over a total of 84 cutblocks, the removal of 1.5 million cubic metres of timber, and 232 kilometres of road – which have essentially been abandoned since the major forest company in the area went bankrupt in 2003.

Effectively, BC, Canada, and the industrial sector are in collusion to suppress Indigenous peoples’ agency and authority over their territories. There is a need to restructure the relationship between Luutkudziiwus and the Crown. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) protects the fundamental human rights of Indigenous Peoples. The BC government has stated that BC will adopt and implement UNDRIP – which requires “free, prior and informed consent” regarding legislation or policy which impacts Indigenous Peoples.

However, the reality on the ground is much different. BC has refused to engage in discussions to implement a renewed approach and process for the protection and management of our territories and the resources thereon; essentially, BC does not want to talk to Luutkudziiwus about lands, resources, health and wellness, fire protection, etc. From Luutkudziiwus’ perspective, this does not remotely resemble BC’s commitment to adopt and implement the UNDRIP, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action, and the Supreme Court of Canada’s Tsilhqot’in decision.

Luutkudziiwus in turn has initiated a variety of youth and family cultural programs, fostered relationships and networking with other First Nations, constructed initial infrastructure that enables people to live and function on the territory, and are conducting a territory management planning process.

Luutkudziiwus’ territorial management approach is guided by Gwalx Yee’insxw, grounded in principles handed down from generation to generation. This ancestral inheritance – the land, rivers, mountains; all the life on the land, in the air, and in the waters; our history and culture; our spiritual areas and sites; the tangible and the intangible – is passed from one generation to the next, while working in conjunction with the “spirit of the land.”


Read more: Certainty for Whom? Canada’s new Indigenous Rights Framework under fire


Water, lands, and forests are valuable resources providing cultural, domestic, ecological, and economic well-being. Madii Lii land and aquatic ecosystems need to be restored to an ecologically resilient landscape that supports the Luutkudziiwus peoples. In order to enable a high level understanding of Madii Lii territory and its resources, Luutkudziiwus is completing an assessment of current conditions – using monitoring along with past data compilation – to lay the foundation for a planning process.

Luutkudziiwus territorial management plans prioritize three key integrated approaches: ecosystem restoration, socio-cultural well being, and economic wellness. This means integrating ecosystem restoration through protecting water, restoring biodiversity where possible, increasing functioning forests, re-invigorating social and cultural well-being, reducing poverty, and focusing on reconciliation.

Luutkudziiwus is working together with other like-minded Indigenous Peoples to support, protect, reconcile, and advance Aboriginal and Indigenous Rights as they relate to the health and protection of land and aquatic resources.

 

Richard Wright is Luutkudziiwus spokesperson. For more information regarding Luutkudziiwus and Madii Lii territory activities, contact the author at richardwright_8@hotmail.com

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