By Trevor Jang | February 7, 2017
Earl Muldon sits at his kitchen table surrounded by family, sipping coffee. His wife Shirley brings over a plate of cream cake topped with huckleberries. They’re hand-picked from the land surrounding his two-storey home in Gitanmaax, a village of about 800 people from the Gitxsan Nation in northwestern British Columbia, near the town of New Hazelton.
To the Gitxsan people, 80-year-old Muldon is known by another name: Delgamuukw. That name — a symbolic ancestral chief name passed down from generation to generation of Gitxsan people — is also one of the most well-known chief names in the rest of Canada. Delgamuukw was the lead plaintiff in a historic court case that confirmed that Aboriginal title, ownership of traditional lands had not been extinguished by any colonial government.
“It’s a name that’s greatly respected. We’ve earned respect for it,” says Muldon, who was one of three people to hold the Delgamuukw name during the court proceedings.
The 1997 Supreme Court win against the B.C. government was important to Indigenous people across Canada because it provided a new test to prove ownership over their traditional lands and waters. It was monumental to the Gitxsan because they seemed poised to assert self-governance over their 33,000-square-kilometre territory.
Fast-forward to the fall of 2016, when it emerged that Muldon was among a group of nine Gitxsan chiefs who had accepted money in exchange for their support of a controversial liquid natural gas (LNG) pipeline without consulting all of their nation’s members. Some Gitxsan people say that decision broke “ayook,” traditional Gitxsan law — and could undermine what the nation fought to prove in court 20 years ago.
So how did Muldon, who holds the hereditary name, Delgamuukw, that represented the unified Gitxsan Nation in their fight for their land, come to be among the group supporting resource development and spurring internal conflict among the Gitxsan? …
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