‘Trouble In Paradise’

“The extraordinary decision by a Haida clan to strip two of its hereditary chiefs of their titles for secretly supporting ‘Enbridge Inc.’s proposed ‘Northern Gateway’ pipeline is being closely watched by ‘First Nations’ across Canada. 

“The rebuke, which was delivered last week in an elaborate ceremony witnessed by more than 500 people, came as the Haida ‘nation’ {a ‘nation’ of 4,635 people} rejected what they say is a growing trend by companies to enlist the support of hereditary chiefs as a way of claiming broad ‘First Nations’ support.

“On Aug. 15, members of the clan stripped Carmen Goertzen and Francis Ingram of their titles, effectively removing them as representatives of two houses, the Yahgulaanaas Janaas of Daadens, and the Iitjaaw Yaahl Naas. Goertzen, a well-known Haida artist, had held the position for 25 years. Ingram had only been appointed a year ago. 

“The men were part of a group of eight, including two other hereditary chiefs, who signed a letter to the ‘National Energy Board’ in March supporting Northern Gateway’s request for a time extension to its proposal for the oil transport pipeline. Earlier this summer, the federal government overturned Northern Gateway’s application, leaving the company with only one more “faint hope” opportunity.

{“We support Northern Gateway’s requested extension for the following reasons: it is in Canada, Alberta and British Columbia’s collective best interest; we require more time to engage with Northern Gateway, in light of significant engagement progress made over the course of the past year; [and] not granting the extension would place in jeopardy the substantive engagement progress made in Coastal British Columbia over the course of the past year.”}

“Goertzen, Ingram and the others, including four men who the Haida ‘Nation’ says do not hold any hereditary position, formed a group called ‘Hereditary Chiefs of North Haida Gwaii LLP’.

“But Darin Swanson, head Chief of the Yahgulaanaas Janaas clan, said the community never knew the men had signed on to support Enbridge and that their endorsement made it look as if the Haida at large had reversed its opposition to the project.

“I don’t think anyone in a clan can tell people who they can work for,” Swanson said, “but when you are a hereditary chief leader, you have responsibilities to your clan and you have to consult with them on important issues like this.


“As hereditary leaders, they didn’t do that. Everything was a big secret up ‘till now,” he said. “At the end of the day, they are crawling into bed with Enbridge. It is almost up to the point that Enbridge is accepting them as (representing) the consultation on the whole of Haida Gwaii.”

“Attempts by ‘Postmedia’ to contact Goertzen and Ingram were unsuccessful. But in an interview with ‘Vice News’ {see below}, which broke the story, Ingram denied asking for an extension, even though he signed the letter. Goertzen acknowledged that Enbridge had paid the men fees to attend a meeting but that he had his community’s best interests at heart.

“To meet with them, we’ve been paid per diems, and we’ve had a few meetings, not even four days,”

he told ‘VICE News’. He said his clan members were “blowing stuff out of proportion.”

“A spokesman for Northern Gateway said the company was aware of the action against the two hereditary chiefs but maintained they had not represented the Haida ‘Nation’ to them.

“At no time have these individuals claimed to us, either verbally or in writing, that they represent or speak for the Haida ‘Nation’ or their respective clans,”

said communications manager Ivan Giesbrecht.

“…The company says it has the support of 31 aboriginal communities across B.C. and Alberta, including a number of ‘First Nations’, as well as Métis associations.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. (Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. (Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

“Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the ‘Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs’ said:

“This is an absolutely huge decision and I think it is a wake-up call to the hereditary system of governance and leadership. I think ‘First Nations’ across the province and throughout ‘Indian country’ in general are paying attention to these developments.”

“Phillip, whose organization represents {leaders of} 115 {mostly tiny} ‘First Nations’ in B.C., said the implications stretch well beyond the Northern Gateway project and touch on other projects, such as Kinder Morgan’s ‘Trans Mountain’ pipeline project and the provincial government’s push to expand its liquified natural gas program.

“It is a clear message that hereditary leaders need to know and understand their ‘stewardship responsibilities’ to ‘caretake the land’ in a proper and responsible fashion,” he said.

–‘Haida clan strips titles from two hereditary chiefs for supporting Northern Gateway pipeline’,
Jeff Lee, Postmedia News, August 18, 2016

Feature PHOTO: VICE News



“A Haida clan in British Columbia has stripped two hereditary chiefs of their titles because they supported the construction of an Enbridge pipeline that the ‘Nation’ fought in court.

“The two chiefs signed a letter in support of the pipeline, and one of the chiefs told ‘VICE News’ he met with the company and received per diems, but he believes the issue is being blown out of proportion. The chiefs have threatened a defamation suit for “lies” they say are being spread about them.

“On Saturday, in front of 500 people, clan members in Old Massett held a ceremony marked with traditional dances in which the hereditary chiefs were stripped of their leadership, and matriarchs appointed new chiefs in their place. A ceremony like this one hasn’t happened since smallpox struck Haida Gwaii, an archipelago along the coast of northern BC, in the 1800s.

“Tensions ran high at the potlatch when a group of five clan members crashed the ceremony in opposition, according to clan spokesperson Ernest Swanson. But three RCMP officers guarded the doors, and a group of matriarchs stood between the potlatch crashers and ceremony organizer Chief Darin Swanson to protect him.

“The two former chiefs who were stripped of their leadership, Carmen Goertzen of the Yahgu 7laanas Dadens Clan and Francis Ingram of the iits’aaw Yahgu ‘laanaas and jaanas Clan, didn’t attend the potlatch, saying they weren’t invited.

“As the heads of their clans, hereditary chiefs are appointed by family matriarchs and are expected to demonstrate and uphold the morals of their families, including peacefulness and modesty. But in this case, because they went against the wishes of their families, their actions are being taken as a betrayal, according to Ernest Swanson, Darin Swanson’s nephew…

“Ernest Swanson said their leadership was revoked because they received money from Enbridge and signed a letter in support of the company’s Northern Gateway pipeline, which the Haida Nation has long opposed because, among other reasons, the influx of tanker traffic would increase the risk of oil spills.

“The Haida ‘Nation’ celebrated a victory in late June when a court overturned the pipeline’s approval…

{However} In a June 27 letter to the ‘National Energy Board’ (NEB), Canada’s pipeline regulator, a coalition of eight hereditary chiefs, including Goertzen and Ingram, wrote:

“We support Northern Gateway’s requested extension for the following reasons: it is in Canada, Alberta and British Columbia’s collective best interest; we require more time to engage with Northern Gateway, in light of significant engagement progress made over the course of the past year; [and] not granting the extension would place in jeopardy the substantive engagement progress made in Coastal British Columbia over the course of the past year.”

“The potlatch comes at a time when the Haida ‘Nation’ — struck by the decline of the fishing industry — is struggling to build a better economic future for itself…


“Ingram, who is 73 and was a crab fisherman for much of his life until he retired, echoed this sentiment. “I lived a good life over that”, he said of the industry that still employs his son.

Now, Haida fishermen are only hauling in 1,000 crabs a week when they used to get 2,000 in one day, he explained.

“There were only seven crab boats when I fished, now there are 60-something, mostly Vietnamese,” he said. “Overfishing, overfishing, they never shut it down,” he said of the industry as a whole.

“According to Ingram, it’s a similar story for the logging industry.

“Instead of having the Natives working in the logging camps there, they got white guys from Vancouver Island coming up with their logging machinery doing all the logging and we’re not getting a penny out of it…”

“That’s tanking the economic opportunities for Haida members, especially in Old Massett, where Saturday’s potlatch happened, he said.

“The clan conflict is also taking place as the Haida ‘Nation’ tries to rebuild its traditions… The stripping of the chiefs’ authority is meant to reassert those traditions, Swanson explained.

“This is something that’s been in resurgence, too, you know. We’re still very much trying to create that cultural continuity that we’re missing. We’re rebuilding right now.


“Due to colonization and ‘cultural genocide’ {‘learning to read and write’} and residential schools, we’ve missed a generation of teachings being handed down, which has been a great challenge for us to overcome together. And so we’re moving forward in the best way we know how.”

–‘Haida Clan Strips Chiefs of Titles For Supporting Enbridge Pipeline’,
Hilary Beaumont, VICE News, August 16, 2016

COMMENT: “This was not a decision that was reached lightly. Our clan had four meetings, invited the chiefs in question and when they finally showed, they lied to the clan, said they never signed anything and two weeks later this letter came out. I asked a great Naani of mine, ‘has this been done before?’ She said no, but our chiefs were taught from a young age and groomed to their responsibilities. She said nowadays, they just think they get chief’s name and run with it and have no responsibilities. So in history, we also don’t have chiefs doing what these two have done…

“I applaud our clan for the courage to host this potlatch. As all the chiefs all got up and spokee, they said said I hope to never see this kind of potlatch again but if we need to do it again, we will. Such a powerful day, even though I had an auntie walk by and call me “stupid” under her breath. That’s OK because I just sent her living energy. Hawa’a Yuhgulaanas clan for your strength.”
“Get it right, no Haida has ever been stripped of their chieftainship. With the mob mentality at the dinner — not potlatch, because that was not a potlatch — no one was allowed to protest against this defamation of character. Just who do these people think they are to change Haida history like that?

“I do not support Enbridge and will never support Enbridge — that being said, I will never support any chief being stripped. If you read the letter that was signed, it was not a letter in support of Enbridge, it was a letter saying that ground will not be broken for 3 years. It still does not mean that ground will be broken by Enbridge. There is no letter of support between Enbridge and any Haida or Haidas, there has never been any money exchanged between any Haida and Enbridge for the right to put a pipeline in or around Haida Gwaii. You had better have more proof than that 1 letter to strip someone’s chieftainship. All you have achieved was dividing the nation when we need our nation whole so that we can fight against companies like Enbridge!!!”


“One of the “aboriginal stewards” of the Enbridge proposal is Elmer Derrick, a hereditary chief of the Gitxsan ‘nation’. A few years ago, members of the Gitxsan seized Derrick’s office in Hazelton after he became the first hereditary chief to support ‘Northern Gateway’. Many of the nation’s other hereditary chiefs wrote letters saying Derrick doesn’t represent them, although others do support the project. The Gitxsan remain divided.”

–‘Haida strip two hereditary chiefs of titles for supporting Enbridge’,
Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun, August 17, 2016



See also:
‘Killing energy projects only hurts ‘First Nations’ {July 11, 2016}:

‘Court kills Northern Gateway pipeline’ {July 2, 2016}:

‘Pro-Oil ‘First Nations’ On The Offensive’ {June 26, 2016}:
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