By Alex Rinfret, Jeff King and Heather Ramsay–The Haida Nation wants to hear from islanders affected by the agreement it’s negotiating with the provincial government, and islanders have until tomorrow (Friday) to make their views known. That was the message from a series of meetings held up and down the islands in the past week, designed to update islanders on the state of negotiations and the next steps.
Two, in Skidegate and Old Massett, were open only to Haida people, but the other four were open to all. They started in Masset last Thursday.
“What we have is a letter of understanding – nothing is written in stone,” facilitator Gilbert Parnell said. “Your comments are important.”
In Masset, as in the other meetings, Council of the Haida Nation president Guujaaw described Haida Title, outlined recent court decisions, and spoke about the disappointing outcome of the land use planning process, which wrapped up in February. All these things contributed to the logging road blockades which went up in mid-March, he said.
The activities of Weyerhaeuser have been a huge concern to the Haida Nation and others, he said. Despite a 2002 agreement with local groups to log the profile of the forest, he said, Weyerhaeuser has been targetting cedar over the past couple of years. “The concern of everybody is that they’ve been cutting too much too long,” Guujaaw said. “The opportunities are slipping away from usÂ… As you change the land you change the very thing that gives us a culture.”
The blockade action, which stopped almost all logging in Weyerhaeuser’s Tree Farm Licence for two months, was supported by many islanders and has led the Haida Nation to the current negotiations with the province, he said.
The understanding the two governments reached in mid-May protects several areas for now, while discussions will lead to a more permanent designation, he said. These areas include the Haida Protected Areas as well as areas for cedar and bird nesting habitat.
There’s no question the outcome of the negotiations will lead to a much lower cut level here and have a significant effect on Weyerhaeuser, Husby and the Timber Sales program, Guujaaw said.
“After we determine what’s protected, we’ll reassess everything,” Guujaaw said. “Of course it (the cut level) would go down from what it is now.”
Some of the people potentially most affected by the agreement were sitting right in the front row. Randy, Gloria and Travis O’Brien of the Port Clements company O’Brien and Fuerst Logging told the CHN leaders that they may not be able to keep their business going if too much is taken away from the Timber Sales program.
“The small business people are going to be the biggest losers,” said Randy O’Brien. “I just don’t understand why.”
The small business loggers contribute to the islands economy, employ local people and pay much higher stumpage rates than the major companies, he said. In many ways, they share the same concerns as the Haida Nation.
Mr. Parnell thanked the O’Briens for their comments, saying that their input will be considered.
“We are going to do our best in negotiations,” he said. “The last thing we want to see is islanders suffer and big business walk away with more money in their pockets.”
Another member of the public said that he has been distressed to learn that, despite growing up on the islands, he is not allowed to harvest razor clams on North Beach because he is not Haida.
“I’ve been shoved aside because I’m not Haida, I’m white,” he said. “I love digging clams, I love it. I was recently told I can’t do thatÂ… I don’t want to see that happening with all the forestry jobs.”
Guujaaw replied that the razor clam fishery is limited, that the Haida people have been at it for a long time, and that for many Haida citizens it provides the bulk of their income.
CHN vice-president Arnie Bellis told the young man that the razor clam fishery had been designed that way because of concerns 12 years ago that off-islanders were coming in and buying up licences.
“It wasn’t intended to be a racist licence,” he said. “The intent was to keep the money locally.”
The small circle of chairs kept widening as more people trickled into the meeting, which started at 2 pm..
Greg Wiggins wondered why a mid-afternoon time was chosen for the largest community on the islands, but CHN representative Gilbert Parnell explained it was simply a scheduling necessity.
The final count included over 25 people, including a number of Ministry of Forests staff.
To start the meeting Guujaaw and Mr. Parnell presented the story of how the Council of the Haida Nation got to the letter of understanding with the province, something they call a commitment without legal, binding force.
“It is not a treaty, it is a bit of a leap of faith,” said Guujaaw.
“Why should we believe [the government] this time, when they haven’t lived up to agreements in the past,” Sara Eaton asked.
Guujaaw told her the Haida don’t know if they can, but legal actions are going to come out of this. For example, they will be challenging changes to the Forest Act.
He also said neither BC, Canada, nor the British has ever had any legal authority to claim title on these islands and that every tenure on Haida Gwaii is unlawful. An impending “gazillion” dollar lawsuit will address this.
In the meantime, maps on the wall outlined what the Haida have achieved. The Haida protected areas and interim protection areas (Government Action Regulation or GAR) which will be reviewed during a 30-day period.
Guujaaw said the Haida are looking toward a new kind of protected area designation as many are not happy with the rules surrounding Class A parks. The Haida would like to see more local decision making on allowed uses.
The land-use plan will also reopen for a six-month period with a new focus on a sustainable island economy.
People were curious about what ecoforestry plans will look like on island. While Guujaaw said there is no solid template for this type of forestry because every ecoregion is different, he did point to Isaak in Clayoquot Sound as an example.
Another member of the public asked for information about the bear hunt. Guujaaw said bear hunting will be stopped. The Haida have approached the owner of the Tlell River Lodge who will only sell the lodge and the license together. “He’s not interested in running a hotel,” said Guujaaw, who admitted the price -about $2-million-was steep.
Shayla Farrell asked what the Haida were going to do with the $5 million they received as part of the agreement. Guujaaw said the figure was more a nuisance than anything else. “People are saying, is that all you settled for?”
But according to him, the courts demanded some kind of interim accommodation be paid. This money is just on paper and has no criteria, he says. The figure could also change.
Evelyn von Almassy asked if this money could be used to buy the bear lodge. Mr. Parnell said the short answer was no.
Guujaaw added when the Haida are successful with the court case to recover their losses over the years they will likely take the $5 million off the “gazillion” dollar bill.
Betsy Cardell, a member of the original land-use table, wanted clarity on the dates these processes will begin. Guujaaw said the 30 day review of the protected areas ends July 15, but is still flexible. When the LUPP starts again is also flexible, but will likely be in the fall.
Sara Eaton also asked about what happened to the seized logs being held at the Honna log sort.
Guujaaw said they didn’t want to end up in court over wood that had been in the water for six weeks. Some of it was starting to sink, he said and what they have negotiated has far out-shadowed the wood that was there.
Tuesday evening in Sandspit, the fate of private property was on many residents’ minds. “You talk about ‘you want all the land, all the water, all the air, the whole thing,” Bonita Wasyleski , while later Carol Wagner asked if residents will still have the right to sell their property to private individuals after the land question is settled.
“The holdings that you have are secure,” Guujaaw said, while Mr. Bellis added that in twenty years of being involved with the CHN, “I have never been in a room where people have said we are going to take people’s houses or land.” Gilbert Parnell added “there has never been an agenda to take property away from individuals on Haida Gwaii.” “We want to make sure that you are secure in your homes. We do not have any ideas of kicking you out of your homes.”
However, Guujaaw did say that this does not mean that the Haida have no claim at all to private property.
“We are not saying we don’t have any claim over private property, because the biggest private property owner right now is Brascan”.
Barry Holmes asked if the Haida would be making a goodwill gesture with part of the $5-million received from the province to people in Port Clements who lost income during the blockades.
Gilbert Parnell said the money is “partial payment for the rent that is in arrears, so to speak” while another representative noted that money had been raised and distributed following the April 22 feast in Queen Charlotte.
Bill Sheridan said he wanted to come back to Sandspit one day as an RCMP constable, and was concerned that might not be possible.
“There have been RCMP here almost as long as there have been RCMP”, Guujaaw said, “I don’t see why it would be any different”. “There will be law,” Mr. Bellis said. “Yes, there will be law. There has to be.”
Doug Gould said he’d like to see “our community be sustainable” and asked “where our community’s lifeblood is going to come from under your plan?” He also said the Haida approach “looks like a pretty deliberate pull of the rug out from under Sandspit.” Mr. Bellis said no one was trying to do that.
Jim Henry said he could go to Victoria and attend a session of the legislature, then meet with his MLA if he wanted to, but said “Can I attend a CHN session and talk to somebody there. I have yet to see the Haida invite us to their village. I do not see openness and transparency. I am not included in the CHN process,” he said.
Guujaaw said the CHN was set up to represent the interest of the Haida. “Will there ever be a governance that includes us all? I don’t know,” He said.
Travis Glasman said “I am really frustrated, our community has to change our attitude if we are going to get anywhere,” and Ms Wasyleski said “I think the attitude has to change very much. We only look to the past to improve the future.”
Details of the agreement, the Haida Land Use Vision and the draft land use plan package were all available at the meetings. Several maps showing features of the islands like salmon-bearing streams and the Haida protected areas were also displayed.
A final meeting was held in Port Clements Tuesday evening, too late for posting here Wednesday. We’ll have a report on it Friday, and in the Observer June 16.