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Nisga’a Nation seeks injunction to enforce treaty in land dispute

The Nisga’a Nation has sought an injunction stopping members of the Gitanyow Nation from occupying part of the Nass Wildlife Area

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Members of the Gitanyow Nation in B.C.’s northwest have carried their dispute over the Nisga’a Nation’s treaty boundaries to an occupation of land in the Nass Wilderness Area, according to court documents.

A group under the name Raven Clan Outlaws has moved in to the area that is part of the Nisga’a Nation’s 2000 treaty settlement and the Nisga’a Lisms, the nation’s government, is seeking an injunction to enforce its title over the area.

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“This illegal occupation is undermining our rights, which means the terms of the Nisga’a treaty are not being honoured,” Nisga’a Lisms president Eva Clayton said in a statement.

In the statement of claim the Nisga’a filed in Supreme Court in Vancouver, the Nation alleged the “occupiers” are causing environmental damage to the site through clear cut logging, building permanent cabins and structures, raising livestock near waterways, growing cannabis without a licence and conducting other commercial activities.

The Nisga’a Nation’s position, stated in its lawsuit, is that its treaty, the first modern treaty negotiated between a First Nation and the provincial and federal governments, is binding “on all persons,” including the defendants to the claim.

Under terms of the treaty, “the Nisga’a Nation has at all material times held a constitutionally protected treaty right to harvest wildlife on and throughout the site,” the statement reads. And the province has not authorized other uses on the site.

The Raven Clan Outlaws leader, Wilhelm Marsden, however, said this part of the Nass Wilderness is also close to a historic village site of his people, where they would like to see the Nisga’a treaty amended.

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“If you look at the overlap, the Nisga’a treaty, they’ve infringed on 86 per cent of our territory,” Marsden told Postmedia News. “And our territory, our wilp, is fully encompassed in (the Nass Wilderness Area).”

Marsden, who is Gamlaxyeltxw, or hereditary chief of the Gitanyow’s Raven Clan, said he is working with the province on an incremental title agreement for a range of activities in their territory, but acknowledged they did not seek a licence for their occupation.

On its website, the Raven Clan Outlaws say they don’t recognized federal or provincial legislation on their territory or “apply for permits to harvest resources on traditional lands.”

“It’s illegal under provincial law maybe,” Marsden said. “But we’re living under our law and that’s the whole relationship under the (incremental title agreement).”

Ultimately, Marsden said they would like to see the Nisga’a treaty amended and maintained “when it comes to our law, we’re not breaking any laws.”

Marsden said his clan built a cabin on their territory in 2020, which they used for traditional activities in 2021 and 2022. This year, they invited farmers from Yukon to help them start producing livestock, chickens and pigs, to maintain their own food security.

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In its statement of claim, the Nisga’a government notes Marsden is party to a lawsuit filed by the Gitanyow in 2003 seeking a declaration from the court that the Gitanyow have existing Aboriginal title to parts of the Nass Wildlife Area, including the site of the ranch.

“The issues raised in the Gitanyow action remain outstanding and no trial has been held,” according to the statement.

Further, it said neither Marsden or any other Gitanyow member has reached a treaty agreement with senior governments, so “they only assert but have not proven or established any Aboriginal title and rights, including to the site.”

“We will do everything we can to protect these hard won rights,” Clayton said.

Marsden said they have a legal team and is prepared to defend the claim, because “this is the fight we want to have.”

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