National Post, August 18, 2016
VANCOUVER — 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 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.
“This is an absolutely huge decision and I think it is a wake-up call to the hereditary system of governance and leadership,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
“I think First Nations across the province and throughout Indian country in general are paying attention to these developments.”
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.
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, 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.”