By Alex Rinfret–The Haida Nation wants to hear from islanders affected by the agreement it is currently negotiating with the provincial government, facilitator Gilbert Parnell said at a meeting in Masset Thursday night (June 2).
“What we have is a letter of understanding – nothing is written in stone,” Mr. Parnell said. “Your comments are important.”
The Masset meeting was one in a series of public meetings the Haida Nation is holding to update islanders on the state of negotiations and the next steps.
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 more 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.”
Details of the agreement, the Haida Land Use Vision and the draft land use plan package were all available at the meeting. Several maps showing features of the islands like salmon-bearing streams and the Haida protected areas were displayed on the walls of the community hall.
The Haida Nation will also hold meetings in Queen Charlotte Monday afternoon (from 2 to 4 pm at the community hall), in Sandspit Monday night (7 to 9 pm at the community hall) and Port Clements Tuesday night (7 to 9 pm at the community hall).
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