BC offers land to Haida Nation

  • Sep. 3, 2003 12:00 p.m.

The province announced Wednesday afternoon it’s offering the Haida Nation 200,000 hectares of provincial Crown land on the islands, Jeff King writes, but there’s a string attached. The Haida must get back to the bargaining table and restart treaty negotiations, a move that would mean abandoning their title case challenge in the courts.
“We decided that we needed to do something significant because we have to find a way to find some kind of reconciliation between the province and the Haida,” Doug Caul, the province’s chief treaty negotiator told the Observer Wednesday afternoon. Mr. Caul and other officials had just made the offer to representatives of the Council of the Haida Nation and the two band councils at a meeting in Skidegate.
Much of the land on offer has previously been identified by the Haida as having cultural significance and economic value, and includes the Duu Guusd Haida Tribal Park on northwest Graham Island, including Langara Island. Smaller parcels include areas in the southwestern region of Graham Island and parts of Moresby Island, as well as some land to allow Old Massett and Skidegate to expand.
The treaty land package would provide the Haida with ownership and/or influence over about 20 percent of the islands. It’s just part of what is currently on the table for the Haida. The Ministry of Forests has a forest tenure of 125,000 cubic metres on offer as well as $1.8-million per year in revenue sharing. As well, the CHN currently plays a significant role in managing Gwaii Haanas along with the federal government. “When you wrap those things all up together, we think it is quite a substantial package,” Mr. Caul said.
The offer has one big condition-that the Haida get back to the bargaining table and restart treaty negotiations, abandoned in 1995. Mr. Caul said it’s intended to jump start the treaty process, and that the province believes negotiations are a better way to resolve differences than going through the courts, as the Haida are now doing.
“This offer is intended to stimulate timely negotiations and create greater certainty regarding the ownership and use of the lands,Â…” BC’s Treaty Negotiations Office says, “The proposal supports government’s efforts to improve the economic climate in the region, as well as resolve issues with the Haida Nation through treaty talks rather than through the courts”.
The province has given the Haida Nation until March 3, 2004 to accept it. There is land only, no cash, involved in the offer.
The Haida Nation filed a suit in BC Supreme Court last March for aboriginal title to the islands. That court action will likely take ten years or more to complete, if it goes ahead, as any outcome would likely be appealed up to the Supreme Court of Canada.
No comment was forthcoming Wednesday from Council of the Haida Nation president Guujaaw.