As we all know, the Gitga’at territory is abundant with the resources that have sustained our people for generations. Our people have come to know these resources better than anyone else, and we have managed them carefully for as long as we have been here. Throughout the 20th century, the governments of Canada and British Columbia exercised an increasing amount of control over these resources. Like other First Nations across Canada, we have fought legal cases defending our Aboriginal Rights so we could be a greater part of the resource management process in order to continue to care for the territory. We have come a long way since we began that legal fight, and we have greater management rights over resources in our territory than we have for a long time. The Resource Management section of the Treaty would describe and protect our Aboriginal Rights that relate to land and resource management, and the specific details of how we can express our Aboriginal Rights are detailed in each of the chapters.
Environmental Assessment and Protection
The Environmental Assessment (EA) process is a process designed to evaluate the impacts that an industrial or commercial project might have on the environment. Scientists of all sorts, as well as people that may be impacted by the project, are invited to participate in the process. First Nations people, including the Gitga’at First Nation, are an important part of the process because our Aboriginal Rights are often impacted by the project.
Not all projects require an environmental assessment, though. Many projects are too small, like a permit to build a family home or to install a new septic system.
For larger projects, like a resource development or industrial project, the impacts on the environment and on Gitga’at First Nation rights would trigger either a Federal or Provincial Environmental Assessment process. The EA chapter defines our role in the process and assures that Gitga’at First Nation will continue to have a real role in assessing a project’s impacts to our rights, title, and other interests. We will also be able to affect how a project will proceed, in some cases even whether it will proceed at all and we’ll be able to significantly influence the conditions for a project to be approved.
Parks and Planning
Provincial and Federal Parks are a land management tool that governments can use to protect lands and resources. For example, if our Government identified a sensitive spirit bear habitat, we might want to protect that area by restricting the sorts of activities, including resource extraction. There are already many Parks and other kinds of protected areas (Conservancies for example) in Gitga’at Territory, and these provide protections to lands, plants, marine life, and other animals from people and resource development.
The Parks and Planning chapter defines how Gitga’at Members and the Gitga’at Government are involved in park management and the public planning process. It is important to the Gitga’at First Nation that we have a significant if not lead role in the cooperative management relationship of the parks in GFN territory with the Government of British Columbia and, if there’s ever a federal park, with Canada.
Just like forestry, mining, hunting, and fishing, fresh water is a resource that requires management and, within Gitga’at Territory, should be collaboratively managed by both BC and Gitga’at. The water resources chapter deals with the use of fresh water from streams, lakes, and underground water including water conservation measures when necessary. Water used for drinking water, Industrial and commercial uses is managed like land resources – a government may issue a license for a company, government, or person to use a specified amount of water. As a part of the Treaty, depending on the source of the water licence request, Gitga’at will have some authority to manage water use.
Forestry has been a big industry in Gitga’at Territory for many years. The Government of BC has acted as the owner of the Forest Resources in our territory, and Gitga’at First Nation has had a limited role in their management. The Forest Resources chapter explains that we would own the Forest Resources on Gitga’at Lands. This means that we can manage all aspects of forestry on Gitga’at Lands including, where we don’t want to harvest or replant trees, charge fees for the harvesting of our Forest Resources by contractors and others. Although we will own the resources, our use and management of the forest resources on Gitga’at Lands must meet or exceed standards for the environmental and forestry practices currently in place. We also share forest health and wildfire responsibility with government.
Traditionally, the way our harvesting practices were managed happened very differently than it does now. Our leaders would gather harvesting information from harvesters, and make sure that our resources were not over harvested and different animals were kept in balance with each other. Since that time, we have had less input on how the harvest of wildlife, migratory birds and fish is managed, with the Governments of British Columbia or Canada having complete authority. We have continued to harvest plants, animals, birds, and fish as a matter of exercising our Aboriginal Right to harvest, but this has not allowed us to manage the resources as we should be able to. It is important for Gitga’at to exercise resource management, and in these chapters, the government has made legal space for Gitga’at members to harvest and for the Gitga’at Government to manage the harvest.
Wildlife, such as moose and deer, are an important part of Gitga’at life, and describes which laws the Gitga’at First Nation can make to manage the wildlife in the territory. This chapter sets out our Aboriginal Right to Harvest Wildlife, and describes the Gitga’at First Nation can make laws to manage the wildlife in the territory. Some laws, such as Wildlife conservation laws, will remain in place, and the Gitga’at First Nation will work with the government to find the best approach to conservation. This chapter also sets out Gitga’at First Nation’s role in other wildlife management activities and their regulation, such as Guide outfitter licenses and Angling guide licenses in the territory. describes which laws the Gitga’at First Nation can make to manage the wildlife in the territory
We also have the Aboriginal Right to Harvest Migratory birds, such as ducks and geese. Like Wildlife, the Gitga’at First Nation will have the right to harvest birds in Gitga’at Territory and to trade the birds that we harvest. We will play a role in developing laws for the conservation of Migratory birds, and because Migratory birds often spend time in other countries, we will have a role in international agreements about the conservation of birds that come to our territory.
A variety of plants are important for the Gitga’at. We use plants for food, medicine, and even our art. We have the Aboriginal Right to Gather these plants, but that also comes with the responsibility to manage how these plants are gathered. Our Aboriginal Right to Gather Plants will include gathering, trading, and selling Plants that have been gathered by Gitga’at First Nation or its members. This includes items made from the Plants that have been harvested. For example, a cedar hat made from cedar harvested in Gitga’at territory could be traded or sold. Just as with Wildlife and Migratory Birds, we will share a role in the management of Plants with the Government.
Canada is re-evaluating their approach to Fisheries in Treaties and they have declined to participate in the Fish chapter of the Treaty at this time.