Legal Principles Underlying the Gitanyow Lax’yip Land Use Plan
The Gitanyow have developed the Gitanyow Lax’yip Land Use Plan as an exercise of our inherent title, jurisdiction and law. The Gitanyow Lax’yip Land Use Plan is grounded in fundamental Gitanyow institutions, as set out in the Gitanyow Constitution and gives effect to the following legal principles:
Honouring Wilp authority: laws related to trespass and royalty payments
Gitanyow Ayookxw does not permit the Huwilp to alienate or relinquish our territories, and access rights may be obtained only by consent. Among the Gitanyow and neighbouring peoples, recognition and respect of each Wilp’s authority over its resources is given effect and enforced through laws of trespass and payment of ‘royalties’ for use of Wilp territories and resources.
Unauthorized use of Wilp territories or resources is prohibited. This is a central principal of the Gitanyow Ayookxw. Permission must be sought from the Wilp before Wilp territories or resources are used, and a share of what is harvested or its value must be paid back to the Wilp head chief as a condition of the consent granted. Laws relating to the share that must be paid to the head chief of the Wilp of any resources harvested from the Wilp Lax Yip are referred to as Skid’m up gid’m Wilp Simogyet. These rules enabled monitoring and conservation of resources to ensure sustainable use. In the absence of permission from the Wilp, unauthorized resource use constitutes trespass, a fundamental violation of the Ayookxw. Historically, after two warnings, unauthorized resource use was a capital offence in Gitanyow law.
Many environmental and social issues today, including conflict and uncertainty regarding resource extraction, can be traced to the failures of past Canadian governments to comply with these Gitanyow laws. In particular, Canadian governments have failed to recognize the existence of Gitanyow Huwilp title and rights, and enabled the settling the land and issuing resource tenures and approvals without having lawfully gaining the right to do so. The imposition of the Indian Act and the denial of the existence of traditional systems of governance have further compounded the problem.
The Gitanyow have consistently resisted the theft of our lands and resources, from our fight against the reserve system and resulting imprisonment, to strategic litigation in the Canadian courts. In 2008 the BC Supreme Court confirmed that indeed “the honour of the Crown and s. 35 of the Constitution Act imposed a constitutional duty to meaningful consult and reach accommodation with respect to the recognition of the Wilps and Wilp boundaries” in strategic land and resource decisions.
The Gitanyow Lax’yip Land Use Plan is a strategic land use plan that combine Gitanyow and Western scientific knowledge to provide technical direction about land and resource management consistent with Gitanyow Ayookxw. Thus, in determining whether to grant permission to the Crown or third parties to use Gitanyow land or resources today, consistency with the Gitanyow Lax’yip Land Use Plan will be a central consideration.
Development of the Gitanyow Lax’yip Land Use Plan is part of a broader vision to secure the long-term, respectful coexistence of Gitanyow and Crown title. The land use direction provided in the plan provides a foundation for creating economic certainty and security for all, and the equitable and sustainable sharing of Gitanyow economic wealth, all in a manner consistent with Gitanyow law. Reconciliation negotiations with the Crown are anticipated to produce specific agreements about benefit sharing from the territories.
Gitanyow Ayookxw places on the Gitanyow the right and responsibility to hold, protect and pass on the land and water of the territories in a sustainable manner from generation to generation. This legal obligation is the foundation of an integrated social, ecological, economic, legal and cultural system encompassing our inherited Ayookxw, the eight historic Wilp and our respective Lax’yip, Ayuuks, Adawaak, and Git’mgan, the Simalgyax language, and the practice of the Li’ligit. The legal obligations associated with Gwelx ye’enst thus encompass not just to the health of land and water, but the whole system: the house, the authorities, the ranks of the house, the oral history, the laws, tying them to the land and allowing the system to continue through time. What we inherited from our grandparents, we live today and are required to pass along to future generations; their rights and obligations flow to us, and will continue to flow like a river through time from the Wilp down through the generations. These legal obligations include the responsibility to be knowledgeable about the law, to uphold it and to pass down knowledge of the law to future generations. In order for the Wilp to be self-sufficient, and to be able to manage and protect their own territories, its members must be educated about the laws.
Gitanyow law is upheld on a daily basis in how names are passed down, how land is protected, and the house group is managed. For millennia, reaffirmation has occurred that the Wilp exists, has authority and is connected to land, as proven and witnessed through the feast.
A Wilp Lax’yip incorporates everything, including lands, waters, land forms and life forms within the boundaries of a specific Wilp Lax’yip, including plants, animals, birds, and fish resources which make the Wilp Lax’yip home permanently or periodically. In some cases it may also include fishing sites that are within the boundaries of another Wilp Lax Yip. Ha’nii tokxw means “our food table” and encompasses the interconnected land, water, air and resources of the Lax’yip that provide food security, medicines and clean, abundant water for the Gitanyow. It also refers to the exclusive right of Wilp members to access Wilp territories and resources to get what they need to live. The ultimate responsibility of the Simogyet is to protect the Wilp Lax’yip, because ensuring the ecological integrity and functioning of the ecosystems of the Wilp provides essential life support systems for the Gitanyow. The ultimate penalty for failure to comply with this fundamental Gitanyow law is Lonuck [extinction...; also famine etc.].
Hla’ Am Wil
The fundamental legal obligation to protect land and resources of the Wilp goes beyond the imperative of physical survival; it is an essential foundation for the sustainability of the entire legal, cultural and economic system of the Gitanyow.
The Hla’ Am Wil or wealth of the land, air and waters of the Lax’yip must be stewarded for the passing on to future generations. Hla’ Am Wil includes good forestlands, plentiful moose, fish, berries, goats and so on. Healthy, functioning ecosystems that sustain these resources sustain the Wilp and allow it to uphold the Ayookxw relating to land ownership, which requires, for example, distribution of wealth in the Li’ligit and the carving and raising of Git’mgan.
The Git’mgan are carved poles which depict the origin and history of the Wilp and are the deed of each Wilp to its Lax’yip. The Git’mgan records the Ayuuks, Adawaak, Ayookxw and Daxgyet of the Wilp. Raising a Git’mgan with the required Li’ligit affirms and confirms the Ayuuks, Adawaak and Daxgyet of the Wilp and attests to the authority of the Wilp over its Lax’yip and its members.
The Li’ligit is the institution by which Wilp authority under Gitanyow law are affirmed and reaffirmed including the succession of names and rights to Lax Yip and resources. The Li’ligit is the formal public gathering of Gitanyow and non-Gitanyow Huwilp initiated by a Wilp to conduct its business, and is monitored, witnessed and publicly confirmed or contested by guest Huwilp.
The wealth of the Wilp Lax’yip (food, gifts and money) that has been accumulated by the host Wilp is distributed to guest Huwilp to demonstrate the wealth of the house and to discharge obligations relating to the business for which the Li’ligit was called. This includes the following:
- Ts’lim - food produced from the Wilp Lax Yip to feed the guests at a Li’lighet, e.g. smoked fish, berries, moose soup, etc.
- Liggi wil - goods produced from wealth of Wilp Lax Yip given as gifts and/or payment at a Li’lighet, e.g., furs, coppers, guns, etc.
- Gwiikyw - “groundhog skins” were once used as currency, now use cash to distribute to Li’lighet guests as a gift and/or payment to discharge obligations
Thus, only by serving as a good caretaker for the physical wealth of the territories is the Simogyet able to fulfill his or her rights and obligations under Gitanyow law and ensure that the overall legal, cultural and economic system of the Gitanyow endures
In this manner, the Gitanyow legal system is designed to enable an economic system that focuses on sustaining the wealth of the territories to ensure a steady flow of resources, goods, services and revenue to meet the needs of the people over time. The
Gitanyow legal system does not reflect Western concepts of resource extraction for profit and unlimited consumption.