THE DIVISION within the Gitxsan people surrounding the signing of an economic benefits deal with Enbridge over its Northern Gateway oil pipeline highlights once more the always thorny question of who speaks for whom within the aboriginal community.
Just as would be the case with Terrace city council or the Kitimat-Stikine regional district, it would be wrong to assume that any decision reached by an aboriginal governing body would have the unanimous support of everyone with that body’s larger community.
And in this case, the situation is even more complicated because while the Enbridge deal was signed by those who say they speak for the Gitxsan hereditary chiefs, those who oppose the deal also contain leaders directly elected to Gitxsan village councils.
An existing lawsuit between the two groups over a philosophical difference in how a post-treaty Gitxsan governance system would be structured had already resulted in an acrimonious situation.
The ultimate challenge here will be determining who speaks for a majority of the Gitxsan people because it is the Gitxsan people who will be affected by the specifics of the Enbridge deal.
In the end, it may be that the only way to make that determination is by referendum. It may also not be a perfect solution but a referendum would be at least conclusive.