Land use agreement marks beginning of a new relationship

  • Jan. 18, 2008 4:00 p.m.

By Judy McKinley-There’s no question that the Dec. 12 signing of the Strategic Land Use Agreement was an historic event. It was the culmination of, depending on who you talk to, the last six years (the community planning forum, the Haida Land Use Vision, Island Spirit Rising), the last 20 years (since Lyell Island), or the past couple of centuries (since first contact) of protests, negotiations, frustrations, dialogue, and hope.Even with the agreement finally signed, our leaders say this is only one step – a beginning of a kind. A “now we know it can actually happen” kind of beginning. The signing of the agreement marks the beginning of a new kind of relationship between the Haida Nation and the Province of British Columbia, one which is officially government-to-government. It is the beginning of another 24 months of hammering out details. It is the beginning as well, many say, for a new relationship, between and for all islanders – the furry, feathered, two-legged and leafed ones – a relationship that respects and envisions both the eco-sustainability of the flora, fauna and human inhabitants of Haida Gwaii, and the economic future of the islands.The agreement, along with a map that outlines land-use zones, can be found at HYPERLINK “” Anyone can download it and get caught up or form opinions. Highlights of the agreement were printed in the Observer last month.Still, how many of us have read the document that is an official vision of our future? Do we truly know what the agreement entails and can we participate as informed citizens over the months and years to come? The document, while accessible, is not a bedtime read. For one, readers will have to get used to some new definitions (“values” and “opportunities”), and weed through some jargon (“risk management targets” and “adaptive principles” anyone?) For another, it’s a whole new process, and set of relationships, even for the parties involved. “This agreement is the first land use plan on the islands, aside from ‘divide the loot’ kind of approach that we have seen over the last century, and its intent is to plan ahead for the next decades and on,” says Haida Nation president Guujaaw. “The course we were on would have seen all of the marketable timber simply cut, and if there were any success or value in the following crops, they would have been cut also. This so far has been good for a few industrialists, but short-sighted and not good for the land or the people who live here.”The land use agreement is an initial agreement which covers the extent of natural resource use on Haida Gwaii, brings the protected areas (special value areas, protected areas and new protected areas) of the islands to about 52 percent of our land mass, and mandates a balance of ecological, cultural, spiritual, and economic interests. It includes a specific reference to an Economic Development Understanding – an economic plan for islanders – and it includes a kind of initial predictability for existing industry with an interim harvest level of 800,000 cubic metres of timber a year. Kiis Gwaii, Langara Island, is part of the new protected areas.The idea of a government-to-government relationship between Haida people, and aboriginal peoples in general, and Canadian provincial and federal bodies, is still new in land title and land use planning agreements. Since it is fairly new territory, (no pun intended), the questions arise: who does each party represent, how does the relationship work in practical application, and how will it evolve?This government-to-government relationship is similar to what was worked out in the Gwaii Haanas agreement, signed between the Haida Nation and the federal government in 1993. Guujaaw described the Gwaii Haanas agreement like this: “There are two separate governments, two separate land designations, in fact the Haida designation was made first.”The province has been working on land use plans with other First Nations as well, and the Haida created their designations over years, including the Haida Land Use Vision Plan. As the Gwaii Haanas agreement is not an agreement to manage a national park, “similarly the agreement for the other protected areas will also recognize two separate designations and authorities in a joint management agreement.”Here’s an example. The whole mass of Haida Gwaii is labeled in the agreement as different land use zones – the protected areas, the operating areas and so on. While the province has designations under the Petroleums and Natural Gas Act, the Geothermal Resources Act and the Forest and Range Protected Areas Act, the Haida have designations under Haida Natural Cultural and Spiritual Areas, and they both share the terms New Protected Areas and Special Value Areas. We still have terms like ‘resource development’ to contend with, but in a way, the terminology makes each party’s perspective clearer, and the nature of their collaboration more evident.So we have already been living with this kind of relationship, but how does it work on the ground?There are a number of areas in the agreement that still appear to be up for negotiation, especially over the next 24 months. For islanders who are wary of what has been described as the “stalling” of the provincial government during the process of signing this agreement, and of a government which was essentially pushed into negotiations by the 2005 Island Spirit Rising blockade, what are the assurances that during this time the spirit of the agreement as it is will be upheld? What is enshrined in the agreement?In August 2002, the BC Court of Appeals confirmed, in reference to previous cases, that the province and industries (in that case Weyerhaeuser) had a ‘duty to consult’ with aboriginals (in that case the Haida) regarding decisions which may affect their traditional territory, whether or not aboriginal title has been established. This decision laid a base, from the province’s own court, for the province to consult and accommodate. This then, is the legal mandate to uphold the spirit of the agreement. And, after what has been described by Lands Minister Pat Bell as the war wounds and respect developed through the land use negotiations, there may also have evolved during this process a true sense of a new way of working together. A lot of old trees and goshawks would be thankful for that.Ecosystem-based management, or EBM, is one of the areas in the agreement that appears both specific and vague. That is because EBM objectives have not yet been declared legal by the province although detailed objectives are laid out in the agreement. “Eco-based management, simply, refers to the managing of logging in a manner that isn’t going to wreck the creeks and wildlife or culture – as it should have been for all these years,” says Guujaaw.The agreement calls it an “adaptive systemic approach to.” well, you get the idea. The agreement does, however, ensure that there is EBM at all, maintaining a balance between “ecological integrity and socio-economic balance” and “protecting Haida cultural values”. Meanwhile the agreement states that “the province will work with the Haida to enable forest tenure holders and BC Timber Sales to work towards, on a voluntary basis, EBM management objectives.” It sounds kind of naive, but at the same time EBM is all over the agreement. Maybe it can work.Another area to be decided over time is that of ‘access routes’. The agreement provides for energy access areas and existing and new industrial access routes through protected areas. While such future provisions can make a conservationist thinking 100 and 200 years down the line a little nervous, they are necessary, says Guujaaw, when one is looking at such large areas of protected land.Okay. Haida Gwaii is islands, but it is also water, and in an eco-system, the lands here cannot be protected without consideration to the waters that surround the island. The agreement, explains Guujaaw, includes about 200 metres below low tide, but also the waters within the “jaws” or “bight of land” – in other words, the bays and inlets within the protected areas. Because there is already large scale marine use planning underway for Hecate Strait and Quen Charlotte Sound, and at another point for Gwaii Haanas, the land use agreement will interface with those agreements. That’s some of the water covered.”We are charged with the representing the Haida Nation,” says Guujaaw, “and we have alliances, such as the island communities (who have signed the island protocol), Coastal First Nations, and ENGOs (environmental non-governmental organizations). We will work with anyone of common cause or intersecting interests.”According to the document, it is not a treaty or a land claims agreement. It does not change or affect the positions of the parties in regard to the dispute over ownership of land and waters. In the next 24 months, there is a lot to work out: “joint management, collaborative management, cooperative management, in some instances, in others, there will be clear and distinct divisions of authority/responsibility,” all to be worked out, says Guujaaw.But still. The majority of this land of magic at the edge of the world where Ravens coaxed the first humans out of a cockle, or clam, shell (depending who you talk to) is now protected. It’s a beginning. Lots of questions to go. A celebration feast will be held Jan. 31 in Skidegate.

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