By Heather Ramsay–Change was on everyone’s mind last Tuesday evening in Port Clements.
Good change, bad change. Fear of change. Rate of change. What kind of change are we looking at anyway?
“At least it is self-inflicted change,” said Lynn Lee of Tlell at the Council of the Haida Nation sponsored public meeting updating people on the state of the negotiations with the province over land-use issues brought on by Island Spirit Rising.
“We’re not done yet, but truly when is it done? I don’t think there is a finish line,” said Council of the Haida Nation vice-president Arnie Bellis of the memorandum of understanding between the province and the Haida Nation.
More than 100 people packed the Port community hall in the biggest of last week’s CHN-sponsored public meetings. Others were held in Masset, Queen Charlotte and Sandspit. Two others, open only to Haida, were held in Skidegate and Old Massett.
Many Port residents wanted specific answers to questions burning since word of more land being placed in protected areas and a new tenure of 120,000 cubic metres for the Haida was announced.
“What is the objective in the long run?” Jim Abbott, owner of Abfam Enterprises, a sawmill in Port Clements, asked Haida panel members, Bellis, Haida president Guujaaw and facilitator Gilbert Parnell.
Mr. Abbott questioned whether the Haida intend to sell their new timber license or work it themselves with employees gathered from within the villages. Or will it be left to sit and never logged, he queried.
To this Guujaaw replied that nothing is decided about how, operationally, the future will look.
“We don’t have the machinery. We don’t have a lot of things that we need. There is a lot we need to consider,” he said. Guujaaw indicated the resurgence of the land-use plan, with a focus on strategies for the local economy would help answer these questions.
Mr. Parnell tried to reassure the room that the goals of the CHN are to maximize employment and create certainty of supply to entrepreneurs on the island.
This led many to question who on the islands would be eligible to benefit from any of the changes coming down the pike.
“Am I considered to be one of the protected people? Are we in your cause?” asked Lisa George, a nine year resident and town councillor, although she said she was using the term loosely.
“I feel I haven’t been able to represent my community. I don’t feel informed as a councillor,” she said, echoing many others’ concerns about being in the dark about the future plans for land and resource use on the islands.
Ms George and other community members expressed fear about the long-term prospects for Port Clements and wonder who is looking out for their best interests.
“The overall feeling in Port Clements is that we are going to lose the little bit of paradise we have,” said Lisa Waring, who fears her family may not be able to stay in the area the major employers and many of her neighbours are gone.
“I love living here. I would not live anywhere else. I want to be here until the day I die,” she said.
Guujaaw said Ms. Waring’s reaction puts in focus that this struggle is about people and families.
“We have the same concerns, you and I,” he said.
Paul Pearson, from Skidegate, spoke about the people who have done well here over the years and how the Haida have not begrudged that.
“But I feel threatened too. By companies, government, all the people who come here,” he said.
It is hard for anyone to understand the way we grew up, he added. “Talk about culture shock. I take my hat off to those who have helped us. We could all live comfortably yet.”
Others wanted to know how to keep the community stable while awaiting the new plan and wanted assurances there would be a transition period.
“Change is inevitable, but if we cut the flow too quickly we have a school to lose, a multi-purpose complex and many people in town,” said Paul Waring, another village councilor. Does the transition have to be so abrupt, he asked.
Many believe the new Haida tenure is at the expense of the tenure available to small business people on island.
Tom Johnson, area manager for BC Timber Sales spoke about his program and concerns that BCTS is sitting on timber that could be going to local entrepreneurs. Some areas ready for logging are being reviewed for possible protection, he said.
He also spoke about the difficulties in managing the shift from one license to another and suggested the transition can be a longer process than anyone might think.
Guujaaw mentioned that Brascan (now called Cascadia) has asked for an acquisition strategy and the Haida are confident they may be able to buy the TFL 39 and private lands on the island.
Gloria O’Brien wondered how the Haida plan to train their young people to become an active part of this new leadership role in logging on the islands.
“How do you plan on training kids to be come part of that new vision? As an employer we appreciate how hard it is to hang on to kids,” she said.
She hopes the Haida will look toward the old loggers and those who have made their living from logging.
As Port mayor Dale Lore observed, “Many of you are asking iron-clad questions and getting fuzzy answers.”
What is perceived as secrecy is a lack of any real answers, he suggested.
Mr. Bellis encouraged people to extend themselves and to come and talk with the Haida. “If you don’t trust us, that is understandable. Trust is earned. Let’s earn each others trust.”
Dennis Reindl asked if the Haida are pro-logging and pro-tourism.
Guujaaw replied, they are pro-good logging and good tourism. He also reminded people in the room that even among the Haida, every opinion is being expressed.
“Anything from let’s stop the logging, to let’s do it ourselves. We must strike a balance between ecology, culture and economy. Getting there is going to be an interesting ride.”
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