By Heather Ramsay–Will it be a referendum or a council decision whether Queen Charlotte signs the protocol agreement with the Council of the Haida Nation?
This and many other questions came up at the first public meeting held to discuss the topic on July 18.
“A resoundingly successful referendum would give a pile of power to the agreement,” said resident Duncan White.
Others were not sure a referendum was the best idea, and still others were not clear what signing the document would even mean for Queen Charlotte.
At least 36 people filled the Eric Ross Room for a special meeting of the Queen Charlotte Council to listen to CHN president Guujaaw discuss the agreement and what it means for island communities.
Guujaaw says the agreement is about respecting each other’s communities, but the document is also recognition of the co-existence of two kinds of title – Crown and Haida aboriginal title.
Crown title is the jurisdiction the governments of Canada have over lands that are not privately owned. This jurisdiction has been in place since Confederation and before.
Haida aboriginal title is what the CHN is seeking in its title case before the courts, a type of title that exists under Canadian law.
Confusingly, a third kind of title, Haida title, existed well before either of the above legal ideas, according to Guujaaw. He said this title does not depend on Canada or its laws for legitimacy, and has existed through Haida ancestry and thousands of years on the land.
One of the most pressing questions that came up at the meeting is what Haida aboriginal title means for private property.
Guujaaw said the Haida position hasn’t changed in 30 years. When title is established, the Haida have no interest in bothering people in their homes, he says.
He pointed to a section in the Protocol agreement. It reads, “the parties ensure that individuals and communities will not be dispossessed of lands, and that any unlawful acquisitions of the past will be the liability of the Crown.”
Guujaaw admits the Crown is not a party to, nor has it signed the document.
He went on to say some fee simple land is owned by large corporations and tenures such as the Tree Farm License and others such as woodlots are considered illegal to the Haida.
“We’re not letting Brascan off the hook.”
In fact, he says there is a real opportunity for the Haida to take over some tenured land in the future. This is one of the aspects he would like to connect with communities about.
He’d like to see some kind of local management structure of any timber licenses discussed.
These and other topics would on the table during Protocol meetings, which the public are welcome to attend.
The Protocol Agreement has been signed by Port Clements, Masset and a version was signed last spring by the Regional District Electoral Area D.
Guujaaw said the document had been around for quite awhile before these signings, but had spent some time on the shelf.
“People including on our side got a little uncomfortable,” he said, likening the agreement to getting married.
He said he was not holding anyone ransom to sign the agreement, nor was he in any rush.
Sandra Price asked what the impact would be if the community said “No.”
“The province would be gleeful,” said Guujaaw, but he said it doesn’t really matter in terms of law. He reiterated that the agreement strengthens the relationship between the communities.
“It strengthens our position and it strengthens the collective position as well,” he said.
Mayor Carol Kulesha said signing or not signing the agreement makes a statement.
“This is a choice our community needs to make,” she said.
Mayor Kulesha said this meeting was the council’s first attempt to gauge the minds of residents on the Protocol agreement. She encouraged people to call, email, write or stop in to the Village office with comments or questions about signing the protocol.
She said she didn’t think a referendum was necessary at this point, but she was open to hearing from residents.
Councillors passed a motion at their June 19 council meeting to make a decision on whether to sign the agreement by September 21.
Resident Frank Wall said he was concerned about people not being well-informed to vote on the topic. He had barely found out about the meeting, and wasn’t sure where to get any more information.
Mayor Kulesha agreed this is a common problem in local government, but put the onus back on community members.
“Everyone has to speak to other friends in coffee shops and discuss these issues,” she said.
“If you want to influence how things work, you have to come to meetings and participate and do your homework, instead of being the person who stands at the back and complains.”
In support of council making the decision with input from the community, she said: “You elected us to represent what we think is the best interests of the community.
Councillor Kris Olsen also spoke in favour of council making the decision.
“It is important for our council to make a decision off the mark that is as strong as this,” he said.
Resident Tracy Morton noted the Haida’s case for title seemed pretty strong. He suggested signing the protocol was a way to ensure the community had a place at the table with the Haida.
“I can’t vote for Guujaaw. He is not accountable to me,” he reminded people.
Resident Kevin Gibson said a telephone referendum, like that done to gauge preference for the name of the newly incorporated village, could be carried out.
He suggested that question was “not as important as the relationship we have with the Haida” and a telephone referendum would give the village real feedback from the street.
Councillor Greg Martin suggested the discussion move onto the street after the meeting. “I’d like to see people making themselves more informed.”
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