Rediscovery co-founder Thom Henley returns to Haida Gwaii with new memoir

Henley to speak in Old Massett Thursday night and in Queen Charlotte on Friday

Thom Henley, known for co-founding Rediscovery and his key role in the 14-year mission to establish Gwaii Haanas, says begrudgingly that the system works if grassroots groups are willing to make it work.

Henley is back in Haida Gwaii to talk about his autobiographical book, Raven Walks Around the World. On Thursday, he will give a 7 p.m. reading at the Tluu Xaada Naay Longhouse in Old Massett, and on Friday he will give a 7 p.m. reading at the Queen Charlotte community hall.

In 1970, a 22-year-old Thom Henley left Michigan and drifted around the northwest coast, getting by on odd jobs and advice from even odder characters.

He rode the rails, built a squatter shack on a beach, came to be known as “Huckleberry” and embarked on adventures along the West Coast.

Eventually, a hippie named Stormy directed him to Haida Gwaii.

While kayaking the remote area around South Moresby Island, Henley was struck by the clear-cut logging and desecration of ancient Haida village sites. Henley collaborated with the Haida for the next 14 years to spearhead the largest environmental campaign in Canadian history and the creation of Gwaii Haanas.

He was formally adopted by the Haida and bestowed with the new name, “Yaahl Hlaagaay Gwii Kaas” (Raven Walks Around the World).

“You know the chances of that happening were so slim,” said Henley about Gwaii Haanas, adding that a tree farm licence is sacrosanct.

“So if the Haida, especially Percy Williams hadn’t deferred logging for Burnaby Island, if it wasn’t for the citizen effort, that world class intertidal zone, all intertidal life, would be buried under three to five feet of dead trees and yet Parks Canada puts it on its poster.”

Henley said Parks Canada now takes credit for Gwaii Haanas, and while it kind of acknowledges the Haida blockade, at no point did Parks Canada support the fight for Gwaii Haanas because it didn’t want to take on the forest industry.

“The nation should be proud of it,” he said, about the fight for Gwaii Haanas.

“That’s where it should begin: at the grassroots local level, not environmentalist groups coming in from the big city.”

Canadians are incredibly fortunate compared to other countries in the world where the same thing is virtually impossible, said Henley.

Everywhere in the world sees people facing the same issues of big development projects that might be needed but the people also have concerns and don’t feel they have a voice, and in almost every case they’re losing their fight, he said.

The only place citizens are actually turning things around is from Vancouver Island up to Haida Gwaii and inland to about Smithers, he added.

“You have to have meaningful input from citizens whenever they feel they’re being dissed from discussions, you have pushback,” said Henley. “I think you would see a lot more cooperation if people felt their voices were being heard. It shouldn’t have to be this constant competition.”

The underlying question is what direction do we want to be going as a nation? Are we going to hang onto LNG or go in new directions?

“I’ve got a friend who lives near Kispiox. He plugs his car in. It’s a solar powered car. He can go from Kispiox to Burns Lake or Prince Rupert and back,” said Henley.

“This is a guy living in the bush. Where’s the auto industry?”

Resource industry jobs aren’t the only jobs, he added.

Just because we have a lot of gas resources and fish doesn’t mean we take it all out to make an economy, said Henley.

“We need jobs but the boom-bust mentality is not a healthy one,” he said.

A Haida elder in Sandspit was told by a logger that the environment in the hands of the Haida ruined his livelihood and community.

The elder said there was nothing across the inlet from Sandspit and then there was a logging camp.

“She said ‘if you are a community, where is your graveyard?’” said Henley about what the elder said to the logger.

“If you don’t care for a place enough to be buried there or have your loved ones buried there, you don’t care for it. It does not speak well for stewardship. Get the money and run, that’s the attitude.”

To build a sustainable real community, people have to love it enough to want to be buried there, he added.

And he is glad there’s opportunity for change in Canada.

“I don’t know of a better country. There’s no place I’d rather live,” said Henley.

“We do have a process which we can work within the system and eventually bring about change.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here


Harbour Publishing photo Author and activist Thom Henley recently published a book about his involvement in establishing the Gwaii Haanas National Park on Haida Gwaii.

Just Posted

Single-engine aircraft crashes near Telkwa

Two occupants of the plane sustained minor injuries and were transported to hospital

Cullen announces bid for provincial NDP nomination for Stikine riding

Current MLA Donaldson not seeking re-election

Northern Health records 1st fatality due to COVID-19

Six people died from the novel coronavirus on the weekend, health officials confirm

Police look for vehicle, male driver after incident involving girl, 11

The driver was described as an older Caucasian male with white hair, no glasses, and no facial hair

Anger growing among B.C. salmon anglers shut out of public fishery

Fisheries minister stands by “very difficult” decisions to limit openings

3 new deaths due to COVID-19 in B.C., 139 new cases

B.C. confirms 40 ‘historic cases,’ as well

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Application deadline for fish harvester benefits program extended

Those financially impacted by the pandemic have until Oct. 5 to apply

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

B.C. teachers file Labour Relations Board application over COVID-19 classroom concerns

The application comes as B.C.’s second week of the new school year comes to a close

CHARTS: Beyond Metro Vancouver, COVID-19 cases in B.C. haven’t increased much recently

COVID-19 case counts outside of Metro Vancouver have been level since July

70-year-old punched in the head in dispute over disability parking space in Nanaimo

Senior’s turban knocked off in incident at mall parking lot

Most Read