It began in the forest, but the latest plan to protect Gwaii Haanas extends well into the sea.
Forty per cent of the Gwaii Haanas marine area is now off-limits to commercial or recreational fishing, up from just three per cent.
One of the 11 marine areas now protected in Gwaii Haanas is a 500 km2 area stretching from Kwoon Cove down to Gowgaia Bay. Known as an “ecological superstorm,” it features a steep drop in the continental shelf where cold, nutrient-rich waters well up over a whole series of underwater ecosystems.
Such areas represent the biggest single change in the new 10-year management plan that dozens of people welcomed with songs and speeches at the Haida Heritage Centre on Friday, Nov. 16.
“For the Haida Nation, that’s the significance of this plan — we are now talking about fisheries management, we’re talking about managing the waters,” said Haida Nation President Peter Lantin, kil tlaats’gaa.
“We believe we can show joint management is not a fearsome prospect for anybody, but one that will ultimately benefit us and the ecosystem that we rely on.”
Unveiled in draft form at a series of community dinners and coffee-shop talks this summer, the final Land-Sea-People or Gina ‘Waadlux̱an KilG̱uhlG̱a (Talking About Everything) plan replaces the separate land and marine plans that have guided work in Gwaii Haanas since 1993 and 2010, respectively.
The new plan is highly integrated. For example, plans to restore herring stocks, seabirds, forest-floor plants and ensuring that visitors are bio-secure are listed under a single objective.
Lantin and many other speakers at Friday’s celebration noted that it took decades of relationship-building between Canada and the Haida Nation to bring Gwaii Haanas to this point, starting with the Haida Gwaii Watchmen and then the logging blockade at Lyell Island/Athlii Gwaii in 1985.
Lantin acknowledged everyone who stood up for Gwaii Haanas then.
“I also wanted to acknowledge Canada, for coming to this table and for trusting this process,” he added, noting that even over the last four years of work on the plan, there were times it seemed either Canada or the Haida Nation might walk away.
But that didn’t happen.
“We can manage a whole ecosystem to a higher standard, and do it together,” Lantin said. “In today’s political environment, this is a monumental achievement — you know there are pockets of sanity in the world when people work together.”
In fact, everyone who spoke Friday on behalf of the Archipelago Management Board (AMB) — the six-person board that co-manages Gwaii Haanas — praised the now 25-year working relationship between Canada and the Haida Nation.
“Our model of decision-making allows us to make decisions in a way that respects our respective authorities, and our respective laws,” said Ernie Gladstone, the superintendent of Gwaii Haanas and one of two Parks Canada reps on the AMB.
“There is a foundation laid now that’s based on relationships, and based on the principles in the plan — the connections to the land and the sea,” said Colin Masson, another AMB member and the North Coast area director for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
“It’s truly a Haida plan and a Canada plan,” said Jason Alsop, Gaagwiis, a Haida Nation rep who recently finished a Masters in tourism management while serving on the AMB.
Cindy Boyko, a Haida Nation rep who has served with the AMB for 18 years, took time to highlight the behind-the-scenes work of Gwaii Haanas planner Hilary Thorpe and Haida Nation planner Catherine Rigg in keeping everyone on board.
“They were so good at pulling us all together,” she said.
As well as fine speeches, the celebration Friday featured a special donation of $50,000 to the Swan Bay ReDiscovery program in Gwaii Haanas.
Presenting the donation was Trevor Swerdfager, senior vice president with Parks Canada, who called the new plan a tremendous achievement, and partnership.
Before closing the event by leading a series of Haida paddling songs, Nika Collison, director of the Haida Gwaii Museum, traced a theme of coexistence from time of the supernaturals to 18th-century contact and the 20th- and 21st-century efforts to get Gwaii Haanas established.
Collison also shared some food for thought that she first heard from Miles Richardon Jr.
“It is actually the land, the air, the water and the other beings that are managing us,” Collison said.
“We’re the ones that will leave if we don’t respect the world.”