Haida power on display, Premier in Old Massett to take old name back

  • Jun. 18, 2010 5:00 a.m.

By Jeff King–The drums and singing in the hall must have been heard in Masset, maybe further, as Haida power asserted itself Thursday afternoon in song and dance in Old Massett. It was as big as celebrations get around here, with about 700 people attending (about 15-percent of the islands population), to witness the name ‘Queen Charlotte Islands’ being given back to the Crown. The name was placed in a bentwood box and ceremonially touched by every hereditary chief before being handed to BC Premier Gordon Campbell, who flew up for the day for the event.”Haida Gwaii always was. Haida Gwaii always will be,” Mr. Campbell said. He also said that it’s the strength of the people and their cultures that make the world a special place.”You cannot hear the power of the drums without remembering the generations of strength and power of the Haida people,” he said. The Premier thanked the Haida for their commitment to future generations and praised Council of the Haida Nation President Guujaaw, saying “thank you for all you have given us in British Columbia and Canada. Thank you for your leadership and your vision.””Today we celebrate that moment in June 2009 when we put the past behind us. This place will be called on our maps one thing and one thing only. Haida Gwaii,” Mr. Campbell said as applause and cheers resonated throughout hall.George Abbott, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation also spoke.”This is a day to celebrate Haida Gwaii. The islands never were the Queen Charlotte Islands. They are and they always will be Haida Gwaii,” he said.”We received our life and our culture from Haida Gwaii. Over countless generations, our bodies are reclaimed by the lands we callHaida Gwaii,” said Guujaaw in a written statement, “Haida Gwaii is not only where we are, this is who we are. While we cannot unwind history, we will leave colonialism behind us, as we have laid the foundation for a respectful relationship into the future.”At the ceremony, he added that when Gordon Campbell became premier ten years ago, “he was ready for a fight, and the Haida were ready.” Guujaaw also noted that when the CHN was founded thirty years ago, the Haida people directed it to protect several areas, including Duu Guusd , on the northwest corner of Graham Island. Guujaaw said now, all of the land has been protected.”We did secure all of the land that our people ordered us to protect,” Guujaaw said. He also said logging has been reduced by about two-thirds and the remaining logging will be better managed. “Our people are going to benefit,” he said, “we are just days away, we are going to the owner of the old MacMillan-Bloedel TFL.”Guujaaw also said fighting the province is easier than working through agreements.”It is way easier to fight them,” he said, now, we have to figure out complicated matters like getting along.” Other speakers included Reno Russ-Chief Iljawaas, who praised Premier Campbell and gave him a Haida name. Mr. Russ also said he was thrilled to witness the debate on the name change in the Legislature in Victoria earlier this month.John T. Jones, Chief Councillor, Old Massett Village Council said”My heart is so happy today to be a Haida. All our ancestors are just smiling. I am proud to be a Haida and this is Haida Gwaii,” and Robert Mills, Chief Councillor, Skidegate, said “we are of this land. We are of these waters. We are of our ancestors. Thanks, Gordon Campbell, to finally recognize what we have known all along. That we are Haida and we live on Haida Gwaii.” The province agreed to change the name last year, and the change became law on June 3 with the passing of Bill 18, the Haida Gwaii Reconciliation Act. It also set up a co-management team to make decisions on land and forest use, heritage sites, protected area management and more. That team, known as the Haida Gwaii Management Council, is set to be up and running in the fall.The name Queen Charlotte Islands was given to the Islands in 1787 by George Dixon, a fur trader and captain of the vessel Queen Charlotte, named for the wife of King George the III. It will now be replaced on maps and in people’s minds by Haida Gwaii.