Course:FRST370/Governance and community resource practices of the Gitxsan Nation in the Skeena River watershed, British Columbia, Canada

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Totem poles in Kispiox, British Columbia, Canada.
Mountain just outside of Hazelton, BC.

This case study focuses on the community resource practices of the Gitxsan nation in the Skeena River Watershed of British Columbia, Canada, and their ongoing relationship with the existing colonial-style government. Specifically, it focuses on current management practices of fisheries located on the Skeena and Babine rivers as well the forested Kispiox Timber Supply Area (TSA).  Furthermore, this study will elaborate on the specific tenure arrangements of the TSA, the aboriginal right to fish, and the administrative arrangements of both the Gitxsan nation, as well as the colonial government.   In the discussion section, the intentions, successes, critical issues, and conflicts of the multiple stakeholder groups, both affected and interested, will be elaborated on to provide additional context.  Finally, in the assessments and discussion sections, an analysis of the current resource management regime and possible solutions will convey potential improvements that can better protect the interests of multiple stakeholder groups and the Gitxsan nation.


The Skeena river in winter time as seen from Telegraph Poin.t

The Skeena River is a body of water that flows out from the mainland, just south of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada. The river, and the larger watershed, have been a vital source of income, food, and culture for generations of people. Before the colonization of the land by European settlers, the area was owned collectively by First Nations communities that had lived there for generations. The Gitxsan, the focus of this specific case study, is no exception.[1] Aboriginal title was given, by the government of Canada, to the Gitxsan following the 1997 Delgam’Uukw v B.C. ruling, recognizing their right to own and have access over their land and waters.[1]

Fisheries in the Skeena River watershed have been a significant point of interest due to the salmon population that inhabits the waters. Indigenous fisheries have existed in the watershed for at least 5.000 years, with 17 different First Nations communities relying on healthy salmon stocks to harvest as a source of income and food.[2] Forests have also been both resource and source of culture for the Gitxsan. Communities used trees as a medium for carvings, fire starters, and even as a source of food. [3]

 In recent years the watershed and the communities that inhabit it have experienced impacts from European colonization, and fisheries are an aspect of resource management largely impacted by colonial practices.[4] As with other resources in the Skeena River watershed, there are many points of conflict between different stakeholders in determining proper management practices.  The Skeena River Watershed is a unique ecosystem in British Columbia managed by multiple different interested and affected stakeholders. Interested stakeholders in the watershed consist of provincial governments, commercial fishers, recreational fishers, and non-governmental organizations.[4] Affected stakeholders consist primarily of First Nations, local communities, and other members of the ecosystem, such as the forest and animals.

Tenure arrangements

The Kispiox Timber Supply Area (TSA), located in the northwestern interior of British Columbia, Canada.

The Kispiox Timber Supply Area (TSA) is located in the northwestern interior of British Columbia.  It is within the Skeena Natural Resource Region and overlaps the traditional ancestral and unceded territory on the Gitxsan Nation as well as the Gitanyow, Nat’oot’en, Wet’suwet’en, Nisga’a and Tsimshian traditional territories.  This TSA covers 1.2 million hectares of land and includes the village of Kispiox, Kitseguecla, and Kitwanga, among other communities.  The Kispiox Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) has been created by the provincial government to provide management objectives and strategies for the area.  None of the First Nations listed above supported or participated in the creation of the Kispiox LRMP. [5]

Gitxsan Forest Licence Inc. (GFI) is owned by the Gitxsan nation.  Currently GFI holds the tenure of Forest licence A16831.    The duration of this tenure agreement is a 5-year term as is the Forest Stewardship Plan (FSP) created by GFI.  A Forest Stewardship Plan is required under section 3(2) of the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA).  Beyond FRPA the GFI is also required to address and follow a broader range of legislation including the federal Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Heritage Conservation Act and more.[6]

Traditionally land was never owned by the Gitxsan people as people understand today.  It was understood that as a people the Gitxsan Nation belongs to the land and that they were stewards of the territory.  “This relationship is reciprocal, for the land provides everything required to ensure our survival.”[7]  Before colonization territories were collectively stewarded by different clans and all business in regard to land tenure went through the traditional legal system of the Gitxsan.  Three key principles which guide traditional land stewardship of the Gitxsan people are "that we must take only what we need, give thanks for what we take, and share what we take with those in need."[7]

Administrative arrangements

There are two administrative bodies involved in this case study: the Gitxsan Nation, which holds the aboriginal right and title to the land, and the governmental bodies—provincial and federal.[8] The Ministry of Forestry is required to report all decisions regarding fisheries, mining, and forestry to the respective community in keeping with the aboriginal title and aboriginal right as laid out in the Supreme court Delgam’Uukw decision. They are also required to disclose information regarding harvesting, silviculture, road construction, and forest health in the agreement area. Consent of the community is needed if more the 10% of the agreement area is subject to soil disturbance.[8] The Gitxsan nation must reciprocate this for the provincial government as well in keeping with the obligations outlined in the Delgam’Uukw case. The ministry is not allowed to infringe upon any effort by the community to exercise aboriginal rights regarding the land. Unless there are issues of conservation or public safety, the ministry can overlook aboriginal rights.[8] The federal government has primary responsibility concerning fisheries in both marine and freshwater environments.[4] Commercial fishing typically takes place in marine waters, while recreational fishing takes place in freshwater sources. Aboriginal fishing rights are protected by law under section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982. Commercial fishing poses a threat to the stock of fish returning upstream to areas where inland communities such as the Gitxsan still are entitled to access the resource.[4] The Gitxsan territory covers approximately 200km of the Babine and Skeena rivers. There are three specific fisheries that the Gitxsan can harvest from—two on the Skeena and one on the Babine. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has regulations on the marine commercial fishing industry for not only conservation purposes but to guarantee Excess to Salmon Spawning Requirements (ESSR) for upstream fishing.[9] In conjunction with the DFO First nations, such as Gitxsan, created harvest quotas for the returning fish stocks. For example, Gitxsan can harvest up to 50,000 enhanced sockeyes for commercial sale if taken on selective fishing gear. The community collaborates directly with the DFO for monitoring, data analysis, enforcement, and sale monitoring of the resource.[10]

Affected Stakeholders

In the Skeena River watershed, the affected stakeholders consist primarily of First Nations, local communities, and all living creatures within the watershed.  As affected stakeholders, their objective, in general, is the sustainable management of the watershed for future generations.  The First Nations' power over the resource management was stolen away by the Canadian government during colonization, and it is slowly building as they build their capacity as indigenous governments to work within the resource management frameworks set in place by the colonial government. Outside of the municipal boundaries and private property, local communities have limited power compared to First Nations and the government.  All of the nonhuman affected stakeholders have no jurisdiction over the resource management of the Skeena River watershed.  Many First Nations and local communities work, often with non-governmental organizations, to make sure that all living creatures have a voice.  

Interested Outside Stakeholders

Interested stakeholders in the Skeena River watershed consist of provincial and federal governments, commercial and recreational fishers, non-governmental organizations such as Skeenawild, and other seasonal tourists.  These interested stakeholders, which vary widely in terms of their relative power, range from the government, which has the most control of resource management, to seasonal tourists who have no comparative control in the case of resource management.  As an interested stakeholder, the government holds a disproportionate amount of power over the resource management of the Skeena River watershed.  The government has more power than any stakeholder and can overrule any other group, both interested and affected.  Some non-government organizations and the fishing industry, commercial and recreational, have a relatively high amount of power due to the abundant amount of financial resources and hold various platforms in which they can self-advocate.  The Skeena watershed committee is an example of stakeholders who have combined their power to promote the conservation and protection of resources in the Skeena watershed.


Aims and intentions

Since the establishment of settler colonialism in British Columbia the management of the Skeena River watershed has been a contentious issue between the Gitxsan and other parties interested in the area’s potential profits. Historical practices by these outside parties has required that some of the goals of community forestry in the area to focus on gaining consent from the Gitxsan. Consulting with and gaining consent from the Gitxsan has become a requirement for forestry operations. Guidelines around consultation correlate with the degree of disturbance in an area; as the area of disturbance increases so does the amount of consultation required.[8] More than 10% of soil subjected to disturbance constitutes disturbance levels that require consultation. Other protocols include the requirement of the ministry of forestry “to disclose all info concerning harvesting, silviculture, forest road construction, forest health, or other information concerning site specific activities in the agreement area without cost."[8] Management falls short in other areas as the state continues to hold the perspective that access to resources needs to be limited and therefore privatized/require licensing in order to achieve conservation interests. However, this does not recognize the inherent communal property regime that Gitxsan has in order to regulate the fishery and minimize resource depletion.


The Skeena River has seen successes affirming the rights of the Gitxsan and other First Nations in several court cases. The Supreme Court of Canada R v. Sparrow decision is one example in which First Nations priority to allocation of fish was affirmed.[10] Other successes in the watershed can be seen with the Skeena watershed committee. In a study conducted in the area, three of five mechanisms were successful for conflict resolution. The successful mechanisms include:

  • Common goals shared by local parties are identified and integrated into the agreement[10]
  • Local bodies can make more appropriate decisions which fit local conditions[10]
  • A common vision is developed by the group with the help of an experienced coordinator[10]

Critical Issues

Like most of the world, one of the most pressing issues that the Skeena River watershed faces is climate change and its impacts. The interactions between climate change and resource development have not been studied largely in regional contexts, despite their continued growth and specific significant impacts on communities around the world.[11] In Northwestern BC impacts from climate change are already beginning to appear, one of the most significant being the “1.9 degree C of warming per century in the Omineca regions which include the Nechako and Skeena watersheds.”[11] This warming and other impacts from climate change will have significant effects in the watershed. The growth of forests, species in forests, aquatic ecosystems and the livelihood of communities that rely on them will all be altered because of climate change impacts.[11]

The watershed has also faced issues relating to Salmon management and resulting impacts from settler colonial management of fisheries. One of the largest impacts from outside parties has been the introduction of salmon enhancement activities in the watershed.[2] Salmon enhancement can have negative impacts on wild populations, which was apparent in 2000 at Babine lake, located in the watershed, in which there was a surplus of enhanced fish.[2] Management impacts have also dramatically altered the diversity of salmon in the Skeena river watershed. As different rules and regulations were given out by the government, salmon populations experienced periods of population decline and increase, but ultimately suffering more from periods of decline.[2] Despite these negative impacts, enhancement practices are still supported by multiple stakeholders because of the benefits they bring to local communities.[2]


Past and ongoing conflicts in the watershed are often instigated by the state or private companies carrying out resource extraction or management practices without the consent of the Gitxsan or other First Nations in the watershed. In 1984 protests arose due to unchecked and improperly studied herbicide practices. Objection of the herbicide practices began with protestors camping on the island that was proposed to be sprayed and ended with the Kitsumkalum bringing the Federal Pest Management Institute to court.[12]

Fisheries management has been another point of conflict, as different stakeholders have consistently held different opinions on their preferred management practice. This conflict has often revolved around the implementation of “First Nation’s right to fish and how fish should be divided between First Nations and commercial fishers, in addition to how management decision making should be divided among different stakeholders.”[10] This is an ongoing conflict with different stakeholders holding polarizing views on the correct solution.


The majority of British Columbia is the unceded territory of different First Nations, whose control over resource management is a fraction of what it once was before colonization by the Canadian government. Including the Gitxsan Nation and the Skeena River watershed, the provincial and federal governments ultimately have the final say in resource management, whether it be mining or logging on the land or salmon fisheries of the water. In the past, under the stewardship of Indigenous people, common-pool resources were plentiful, and forest resources were sustained and accounted for all living creatures.

The current resource management framework that the Canadian government requires the Gitxsan Nation to work within is systemically racist. The focus of continued economic growth cannot truly support the traditional values of Indigenous peoples.  

The proposed solution to the problematic and ineffective management regime exists within this systemically racist colonial system, which is ironically the source of indigenous poverty and discrimination. The Canadian government, therefore, requires Indigenous communities to work within the colonial capitalist economy to fix the problems with the current system.[7] The Canadian government must address the systemic racism within the resource management systems for there to be a healthy and sustainable practice in the future.

After a review of the current resource management systems, it is clear that it fails to support the traditional values of First Nations. Systemic change is needed for the betterment of both First Nations, like Gitxsan, and local neighbourhoods, in their local resource management projects. The current management system demonstrates that there is a complete imbalance of power leaning heavily towards the Canadian government. The division of land and waters between the provincial and federal government creates even more difficulties for the Gitxsan nation. It requires the Gitxsan Nation to navigate two different governmental structures if they want to be involved in the complete management of their traditional territory. The current framework fails to address the reciprocal relationship and responsibility of Indigenous peoples to both land and water. As long as the disconnect between forestry and fisheries persists, the management system will continue to fail. The Gitxsan Nation is working within this framework set by the Canadian government as they continue to work towards gaining rights and title over their greater traditional territory. The Canadian government must address this if there is to be a sustainable future of resource management in the Skeena River watershed.


The most pragmatic improvement to community resource management in the Gitxsan territory of the Skeena Watershed would be the broadening of the stakeholder base associated with decision making.  As of now, current forestry and fishery practices in the region are unlikely to be economically or ecologically sustainable. The federal government's current attitude towards the extractives industry is in keeping with this idea—economic activity is seen not only as an inherent good but an inevitable outcome.[7]  Given the threat that climate change poses to economic sustainability in the region, regulations, and laws must be adapted to fit a new model of sustainability in resource extraction at both the commercial and community level.  Thus, broadening the stakeholder base would create a more nuanced and sustainable management model by considering all groups involved.[13]  Local communities, like the Gitxsan, should take a larger role in the management of their local resources as they are more able to make appropriate decisions based on local conditions.[10]  


  1. 1.0 1.1 Ridington, J. (2018). Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA) Plan Officially Endorsed by All Planning Partners: Implementation of PNCIMA Plan Will Help to Ensure a Healthy, Safe and Prosperous Ocean Area - ProQuest.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Wood, C. (2008). Managing Biodiversity of Pacific Salmon: Lessons from the Skeena River Sockeye Salmon Fishery in British Columbia. American Fisheries Society Symposium, 49, 349–364.
  3. Turner, N., & Aru, Y. (n.d.). Cultural Management of Living Trees: An International Perspective. Retrieved November 8, 2020, from
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Freethy, D. (2016). Fisheries-related Collaboration in the Skeena River Watershed: Impacts and Implications of Historical Conflict [D.Soc.Sc., Royal Roads University (Canada)].
  5. British Columbia, & Ministry of Forests. (1996). Kispiox land and resource management plan.
  6. Gitxsan FSP Legal Document.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2020, from
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Grenier, N. (n.d.). Gale OneFile: LegalTrac—Document—ESDII WAL: GITXSAN LAW GROUNDED IN EPISTEMOLOGY. Retrieved November 8, 2020, from
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Mills, P. D. (2005). Reconciliation: Gitxsan property and crown sovereignty. University of British Columbia.
  9. Peruniak, J. A. (2000). Troubled waters: Co-management in the aboriginal fishery : the case of the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en [University of British Columbia].
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 Pinkerton, E. (n.d.). The contribution of watershed-based multi-party co-management agreements to dispute resolution: The Skeena Watershed Committee - ProQuest. Retrieved November 8, 2020, from
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Picketts, I. M., Parkes, M. W., & Déry, S. J. (2017). Climate change and resource development impacts in watersheds: Insights from the Nechako River Basin, Canada. The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe Canadien, 61(2), 196–211.
  12. Brown, R. (n.d.). Saving the Skeena—ProQuest. Retrieved November 8, 2020, from
  13. Messier, C. (n.d.). From Management to Stewardship: Viewing Forests As Complex Adaptive Systems in an Uncertain World - ProQuest. Retrieved November 8, 2020, from
Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
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