Residents hear plans for reconciliation studies in north end

Carver Christian White says he values the days when students in the Haida Gwaii semester program visit his Old Massett longhouse.


Carver Christian White says he values the days when students in the Haida Gwaii semester program visit his Old Massett longhouse.

“When I greet people at my longhouse, at my carving shed, and I talk about the totem poles, I’m trying to educate them on Haida people,” said Mr. White.

“I want them to learn something right from our own mouth.”

Six years after Skidegate began hosting university students who are learning about natural resources, a new semester program in Masset and Old Massett might invite students to learn how reconciliation is taking shape on Haida Gwaii.

Speaking Jan. 14 at a public meeting held in the cedar-walled cafe at Sherri’s Gas Bar and Grill in Old Massett, Carrie Anne Vanderhoop said if it goes ahead, the north-end semester will be modelled on the existing program, which invites third- and fourth-year university students to spend a fall or winter learning from local and off-island teachers in the Haida Heritage Centre at Ḵay Llnagaay.

Ms. Vanderhoop is the academic lead for the program, which is run by the Haida Gwaii Higher Education Society and the University of British Columbia.

“We just wanted to find out what the community feels about having a semester in the north end,” said Ms. Vanderhoop at the start of the meeting.

“Is there support for that, and do we feel we have the capacity to make the program a success here?”

In May, just as Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was publishing its final report, HGES paired four local knowledge-holders and four professors to co-author a set of classes about the ongoing reconciliation between Canada and the Haida Nation.

Open not only to UBC students, but to students at universities around the country and the world, the resulting courses would be First Nations in Canada: Rewriting History; Law and Governance: Indigenous and European Traditions; Reconciliation and Resource Management; and Perspectives in Reconciliation.

Ms. Vanderhoop said the word ‘reconciliation’ means different things to different people, and none of the classes tries to set it in stone.

Students in the new semester program would look at recent partnerships and negotiations between the Council of the Haida Nation, the B.C. and the federal governments, and at case histories such as the co-management of Gwaii Haanas.

Jason Alsop (Gaagwiis), CEO of the Kay Centre, has been involved with the south-end semester since it began in 2010.

Over the years, Mr. Alsop said the program has brought a lot of good to Skidegate — the Kay Centre is full, students often rent homes from local elders, and many volunteer with the Skidegate Haida Language Immersion Program (SHIP).

Alongside the UBC professors who fly in to teach, dozens of local Haida knowledge-holders also give talks to the students, something Mr. Alsop would like to see in the north as well.

Mr. Alsop also hopes a new program can bring more local students home for a semester — about a dozen of the 180 students who finished the existing program actually grew up on Haida Gwaii, meaning they got to spend 14 weeks studying near their families and take a break from city life.

Looking 10 or 20 years ahead, Mr. Alsop said the natural resources students who spend a semester here could one day work for government or industry.

“Hopefully there’s a whole new generation of natural-resource managers on the other side of the table who, when we have a conversation about our concerns, our values, and where we’re coming from as Haida people, maybe they’ll understand what we’re saying,” he said.

“We also want those students to go out there and continue to spread the word about Haida Gwaii as well, and the good stuff that’s happening here,” he added.

“This is a place to learn from.”

When it came time for questions, Crystal Robinson (Kung-jaada) spoke about the harmful legacy of abuse, poverty, and separation from culture and family that residential schools brought to Old Massett.

“There are so many losses, and grief,” Ms. Robinson said.

“How are we going to move forward to embrace the educational system?”

Keith Moore, who co-founded the HGES, said that’s a good question.

“If it’s too early, and it’s too painful, and people are not ready to talk about this, then I think that’s feedback we’d really like to hear,”  said Mr. Moore.

“I support the concept, but you’re doing the right thing by putting feelers out,” added Arnie Bellis.

Speaking in favour of the idea, Frank Collison said while he never got a chance to attend university or finish high school — it just wasn’t allowed — he has since made many friends in the university and college community.

“I certainly learned something from them, and I thought they learned something from me,” said Mr. Collison, smiling.

“I thought that was important — to make that two-way connection.”