There's mixed reaction to the land offer put on the table Wednesday by the provincial government. Council of the Haida Nation president Guujaaw says "we don't even consider it an offer', adding that accepting the 20-percent of the land covered by the offer means surrendering the other 80-percent. (see separate story).
Weyerhaeuser, the major logging company on the islands supports the offer, calling it "substantial", and saying through company vice-president Tom Holmes that it will contribute to improved relations, certainty and stability.
QCI Chamber of Commerce president Jean Traplin, who met with the province's chief negotiator on Thursday said chamber members thought the offer would be rejected, and told Doug Caul that they hoped the government would listen to what islanders say and take it into account in further negotiations.
In a surprise move Wednesday afternoon, the province announced it's offering the Haida Nation 200,000 hectares of provincial Crown land on the islands, with one big string attached-the Haida must get back to the bargaining table and restart treaty negotiations with BC and the federal government, broken off eight years ago.
"We decided that we needed to do something significant because we have to find a way to find some kind of reconciliation between the province and the Haida," Doug Caul, the BC's chief treaty negotiator told the Observer. Mr. Caul and other officials had just made the offer to representatives of the Council of the Haida Nation and the two band councils at a meeting in Skidegate.
Much of the land on offer has previously been identified by the Haida as having cultural significance and economic value. It includes the Duu Guusd Haida Tribal Park on northwest Graham Island, as well as Langara Island. Other parcels include a coastal strip from Naden Harbour to well south of Yan, an area on Kumdis Island, much of the Tlell River watershed and much of the Yakoun watershed including Yakoun Lake, as well as several areas on Moresby Island including Security Inlet to Government Creek (Jiinanga) and Gray Bay to Cumshewa Head. (See accompanying map, colour pink)
Also in the offer is some land to allow Old Massett and Skidegate to expand.
The package would provide the Haida with ownership and/or influence over about 20 percent of the islands. It's just part of what is-or recently has been-on the table for the Haida. Last spring, the Ministry of Forests offered the Haida a forest tenure of 125,000 cubic metres, as well as $1.8-million per year in revenue sharing, but that was rejected by the Haida in June. As well, the Haida currently play a significant role (along with Ottawa) in managing Gwaii Haanas-itself about 14-percent of the islands.
"When you wrap those things all up together, we think it is quite a substantial package," Mr. Caul said, noting that the new offer along with Gwaii Haanas co-management agreement, ads up to 34-percent of the land base of the islands.
The offer has one big condition-that the Haida get back to the bargaining table and restart treaty negotiations, abandoned in 1995. Mr. Caul said it's intended to jump start the treaty process, and the province believes negotiations are a better way to resolve differences than going through the courts, as the Haida are now doing with their land title case at the BC Supreme Court. "There are no guarantees for anybody in court. It is a costly way to go," Mr. Caul said.
"This offer is intended to stimulate timely negotiations and create greater certainty regarding the ownership and use of the lands,Â…" BC's Treaty Negotiations Office says, "The proposal supports government's efforts to improve the economic climate in the region, as well as resolve issues with the Haida Nation through treaty talks rather than through the courts".
The province has given the Haida Nation until March 3, 2004 to accept it. There is land only, no cash, involved in the offer. The offer is the largest chunk of land proferred in any of the province's treaty talks.