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Gitxsan Nation orders CN Rail, foresters, fishermen, off northwestern B.C. lands

TERRACE, B.C. - It's business as usual in a large swath of land in northwestern British Columbia, despite escalating tensions spurred by an eviction order from the Gitxsan First Nation.

The First Nation issued notice last month to sport fishermen, forest companies and Canadian National Railway (TSX:CNR) that they would have to stop all activities in the 33,000 square kilometres of its territories near Terrace, B.C. by Aug. 4.

The First Nation has been in a protracted treaty dispute with the federal and provincial governments. In 2012, lands that the Gitxsan claims rights and title to became part of a treaty agreement-in-principle with the neighbouring Kitsumkalum and Kitselas.

The Gitxsan deadline was also issued to the governments telling them that they must remove those lands from the treaties agreed to by the band's neighbours.

Gitxsan negotiator Gwaans, also know as Beverley Clifton Percival, said Wednesday that progress was being made with the governments earlier this week, but that later disintegrated.

"It's Canada that's being a stick in the mud with their senior person here in British Columbia not wanting to move. We've presented a way forward that will meet all objectives and we remain committed to open to discussions."

"This stuff could have been averted," she added.

The eviction notice was issued in July, just days after the landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision recognizing aboriginal land title.

Mark Hallman, a spokesman for CN Rail, said nothing had stopped the 11 trains that move through the Gitxan territory daily.

"It's been business as usual for freight operations throughout northern B.C. Operations remain fluid and normal and there have been no interruptions," he said.

The railway connects Prince Rupert's busy port with the rest of Canada through that territory. Hallman said the trains are carrying containers, coal, grain and general freight.

CN isn't involved in the negotiations with the First Nation, he said.

"The British Columbia and Canadian governments are working to address the issues raised by the Gitxsan chiefs and CN hopes that process will resolve the situation. It's our view that only the governments are in a position to address the outstanding issues."

Cpl. Dave Tyreman, the North District media relations officer, said no protests or disputes had been reported in connection to the eviction notice.

When asked if there were plans to escalate the dispute or blockade rail or road routes, Clifton Percival said the band is leaving it's options open.

"We've been open and fair and we've been law abiding too."

A provincial government spokeswoman said the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations was attempting to set up a meeting with the band for Thursday.

Attorney General Suzanne Anton was unavailable for an interview Wednesday, but in a statement said the government believes the best way to resolve issues that concern aboriginal rights and title is through negotiation.

Most Canadian protesters, whether aboriginal or non-aboriginal, are peaceful and law abiding, she said.

"We ask everyone to remain respectful of one another on the ground while we seek a resolution to the issues raised by the Gitxsan," the statement said. “We believe working in partnership is the best way to provide a meaningful role in land and resource management decisions for First Nations, including decisions regarding benefit sharing and economic opportunities.”

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous story said the court awarded the land to the Gitxsan.

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