By Jeff King–The forest industry on Haida Gwaii is going to be managed in a much more sustainable way, and another 20-percent of the islands will be protected from logging, following four days of negotiations between the Haida and other islanders and the provincial government, a crowd at the unity feast in Queen Charlotte learned Friday evening. The agreement, just announced, paves the way for the end of the ‘Spirit Rising’ protest, but consultation will be necessary before the checkpoints are removed for good.
“There is a commitment that practically all the things for purposes other than logging will be removed from the logging plans”, Haida Nation president Guujaaw told the group.
This means non-logging values, such as wildlife habitat and cultural and archaeological cedar will be removed from logging plans, and the fourteen Haida protected areas, adding up to 20-percent of the islands, including Duu Guusd on northwest Graham Island as well as Government Creek and Cumshewa Head on Moresby Island, will be protected and no longer be considered for logging, likely for a period of ten years, as permitted by provincial legislation.
As well, the province has agreed that the wishes of islanders will be respected and will take priority. “They did say considerations of the island community will be put in front of the interest of the provincial economy,” Guujaaw told the group.
There will now be consultation with islanders on the agreement with the province. “Over the next few weeks, we are going to let the people decide if what we have obtained is acceptable,” Guujaaw said. In the meantime, it’s expected the checkpoints will remain in place, but workers will not be prevented from working.
A half a dozen islanders, including Guujaaw, Alan Wilson and Wilson Brown from Old Massett, Dempsey Collison from Skidegate, as well as Dale Lore, the mayor of Port Clements, took part in the negotiations which lasted from Tuesday to Friday. They met with, among others, Jack Ebbels, former deputy minister of aboriginal affairs, and only flew back to the islands Friday afternoon.
“I think that they learned the best thing is not to mess with Haida Gwaiins,” Guujaaw said. He also had praise for Dale Lore. “I want to thank the gutsy little mayor of Port Clements,” he told the crowd. “He went with us and the provincial government said ‘we don’t want him in our meeting’. That shows how good he is”.
Guujaaw did not characterize the agreement as a major victory for the Haida people. Rather, he said it’s what “we prevented them from doing”, noting that the Haida protected areas have remained untouched thus far, and now their status is more certain.
Concerning the sale of TFL 39 from Weyerhaeuser to Brascan, one of the major issues that started the protest action a month ago, Guujaaw said he thought court action might still be necessary. He said there was still “a reckoning” to be done with Weyerhaeuser. He also said there is the possibility that the Haida could work with Brascan, although he said he’d prefer it if that company doesn’t get involved with logging on the islands.
Other speakers during the evening included Allan Wilson of Old Massett. “It seems we have about 450 horsepower and we are moving full-tilt in sixth gear. It feels good. This started over twenty years ago on Lyell Island,” he said.
“We owe a great debt to the people who stood on the line,” said Wilson Brown of Old Massett. “One thing the deputy (minister) did say to us, he referred to us as a community. And that means all of us,” he said.
Skeena MP Nathan Cullen made a brief speech, saying “I am a great believer is sustainability. I am very honoured to be here tonight.” As well, provincial NDP candidate Gary Coons attended and met many islanders, as well as hearing about the new agreement.
“We know that there is still an opportunity to create a future that includes culture and a sustainable economy,” Guujaaw said, “We know we can accomplish that.”