CHN considering Hooterville problem

  • Jun. 30, 2009 6:00 p.m.

By Heather Ramsay–The Haida Nation is now contemplating the fate of the evicted residents of Hooterville. The Council of the Haida Nation, along with representatives of the Province and the Village of Queen Charlotte, were invited to the June 25 meeting at Skidegate’s Homemakers Hall, and residents hoped that a decision about the status of their waterfront homes at the western end of Queen Charlotte would be achieved. But at the beginning of the meeting, which ran from 10 am until 3 pm, Haida president Guujaaw clarified that he intended to give those present a fair hearing. “Don’t expect a decision today. We just expect to hear it all out.”. Guujaaw explained the CHN must consider the issue, then bring it to the hereditary chiefs and the people of the Haida Nation before a final decision can be made. Two other representatives of the CHN, David Crosby and Lonnie Young (Chief Gaahlaay), also attended. No one from the province attended the meeting and only one QC councillor, Kris Olsen, was there, although he noted he was not representing the council. Councillor Leslie Johnson’s husband attended, with her regrets. Residents from nine of the 10 households who received eviction notices on Oct. 15, 2008 and have been living on crown land without official licenses of occupation since the province refused to renew these in 2006 attended. Kevin Gibson, spokesperson for the group, said residents were given a list of concerns by the Village of Queen Charlotte and the Province at a meeting in August 2007. He said residents do not feel these issues are insurmountable and he has presented all three levels of government (Province, QC and CHN) with a proposal that addresses them. The issues are: unpaid fees and taxes; unsightly properties and buildings in disrepair; sewage issues; grey water issues; tsunami hazard concern; and legal liability concerns if anyone was injured on the crown land. Residents have also been told that they can’t continue living on the waterfront site because they are impacting a Haida archaeological site and shell midden. Mr. Gibson said he considers the CHN as the senior government in this situation and residents hope to first address their concerns. “We are humbly asking for permission to stay in our homes,” he said. Guujaaw began by saying he’d like to set the record straight. Although reports and statements made by others have stated that the CHN is the reason for the evictions, this is not the case. “That does not reflect the position of the Haida people,” he said. He said the CHN is concerned about the midden, but that it extends well beyond the boundaries of Hooterville, all along the waterfront from the Honna into QC in fact. A few years ago when another attempt to move everyone from the area was made, the CHN did stop the development of subdivisions due to the midden. “Our position was to extend the timeframe for the people living there and eventually return the area to a natural state,” he said. He said the late Chief Skidegate Dempsey Collinson took notice of the residents’ concerns and he wanted to see a different approach to the dispute. The issue now, Guujaaw said, is sewage, but Hooterville has a relatively small impact. “The rest of Queen Charlotte is dumping their sewage directly into the inlet,” he said. He noted the log boom and developments with heavy foundations also have an impact. “This is not the biggest issue on our plate,” he said after discussing the CHN’s efforts work more closely with governments like the Province and the Village of Queen Charlotte. “We know that it is the biggest issue in your lives though.” At this point, other residents spoke up. “We’re in a transition period, but the town has already taken action. They’ve shut the water off, which is an essential service,” said Patrick Lemaire, whose former partner’s name was on the original lease. When she died last year, he says, the house was left to him, but he was not able to set up a new water account. Others discussed how stressful it is to live with the uncertainty of being evicted. People were also concerned with the perceived level of secrecy with which their fates are discussed at the Village of Queen Charlotte. Mr. Gibson feels people should be given the opportunity to live simply on crown land. He says a new type of lease for places like Hooterville could involve stricter restrictions to address environmental, social and First Nations concerns. He proposes a probationary tenure for a three-year period for all those who are currently living in the area. He says residents want lease documents provided in “plain English” so everyone can understand and equity on the fees charged. Mr. Gibson said when people had official licenses of occupation fees were all over the map. “Some people were charged $249, others $1800 or $1500.” Mr. Gibson’s proposal also states that the tenures be transferable to immediate family members and he clarified this would only be those who have a stake in the existing house, and not extend to unborn children. He hopes either the CHN or the Village of QC will administer the leases and that the buildings would be held in trust by these parties. Mr. Gibson also said everyone living there should pay municipal and all other taxes, just as those with fee simple tenures do. But at the meeting, not all Hooterville residents agreed with this. “Many positive things go on in the neighbourhood,” said Mr. Gibson, citing the clean up of garbage many residents have undertaken over the years. He said the area was a dump for the town and he and others have worked hard to stop people from continually dumping garbage there. He says there are alternative sewage systems that could be used as well as very innovative approaches to grey water. Mr. Gibson said a solution to the legal liability issue could be as simple as requiring residents to get insurance. As for unsightly houses, tsunami hazards and the midden, residents suggested that they should not singled out, as many other Queen Charlotte residents could be considered in the same frame of reference. “If it comes to bulldozing, just before they get there I will donate the building to the CHN and leave the islands. I don’t want to live in a community that doesn’t take care of poor people,” he said. At the end of the meeting, Guujaaw told the residents to leave their concerns with the CHN he would get back to them.