Significant progress made in land use plan, meeting hears

  • Oct. 15, 2007 6:00 p.m.

By Judy McKinley–Despite two long, full days of meetings the mood last Thursday night in Skidegate was humourous and optimistic for the Council of the Haida Nation’s House of Assembly community dinner.BC Lands Minister Pat Bell attended, signalling that significant progress in the long-awaited Land Use Plan had been made. But over the evening, it became clear the plan is a landmark agreement with far reaching implications.The plan, first discussed five years ago, said Mr. Bell, is very close to being ratified. “We are within a few weeks, perhaps a month or a little more, of getting ready, I believe, to sign the official land use plan… But this is only the first step.”The evolution of mutually respectful, government-to-government negotiations sets an unparalleled precedent for provincial dialogues with other First Nations, and a tone for dialogue between aboriginals and non-aboriginals. And while there were many kudos for the work of CHN leaders Guujaaw and Arnie Bellis, several made it clear the plan was made with the support of many. Speakers cited recent events, such as the Supreme Court decision on the Delgamuukw case acknowledging the existence of aboriginal title, the solidarity of Coastal First Nations in asserting authority in land use planning, and the leadership of Haida elders. As well, the appointment of Steve Point as Lieutenant Governor, the support of the broader island community and the role of Mr. Bell were all spoken of as heralding a new era . “The thing that has changed for us as a government is the recognition that we have a responsibility to deal government to government with First Nations,” said Mr. Bell “.We understand that it’s no longer acceptable for the provincial government to enforce its will upon.the original inhabitants of the province… We need to determine how we make decisions in a way that respects traditional uses, that respects important histories … That’s what changed in this province.”CHN lawyer Terry-Lynne Williams-Davidson spoke of inclusion. “We are looking for new solutions with our neighbours and in Canada. Our journey is to walk along this path of sharing. Our leaders have come to this place because our elders have directed us, not because a minister directed us, but because our hearts are in the right place. Our future is in our hands to craft”, she said.The leadership of the elders was another theme. “Our elders welcomed the first Yaats Xaadee”, said Old Massett Chief Councillor Elizabeth Moore, “and have been breaking bread with them ever since. I thank our visitors, and welcome the Yaats Xaadee.”CHN vice president Arnie Bellis spoke of the tenacity of the 508 Haida left after smallpox ravaged their population, and their work since. Imagine the world they woke up in. And they said “we’re not going to give up”. “The work is not quite done yet. This is one major step in history.”Mr. Bellis also shared elder Cecil Brown’s advice to him. “When you go to meetings, you listen to people, even if you don’t agree.” Over the evening, speakers were frank about the challenges of the Land Use Planning process and the importance of working through what at times seems like insurmountable differences. “If you think this job is fun, you should try it for a while”, said CHN president Guujaaw, referring to the challenging consultations he faces within the nation. “I can tell you it hasn’t always been easy”, said Mr. Bell. “I have a few war wounds on my back. .But it’s been in a way where we have accomplished much together.” Mr Bellis spoke about on island negotiations with other communities. “As we move forward, there are always differences. We evolve a relationship.” And, he said, “the door is always open in our house to discuss these things.There are things to be done that we can’t even imagine.” What most marked the evening was a sense of possibility. “This is a very very special place”, said Mr. Bell. When Guujaaw first took him for a tour of the islands, “he showed me areas that we should not be proud of, the way we managed the land base. He showed me areas that we really have much work to do, to repair the land and get it back to a state it originally was, in a respectful way. And those are the types of challenges we are prepared to take on.” This Land Use Plan is the beginning of very great things in Haida Gwaii,” Mr. Bell said. “There is no state in the world has sat down and done what we have done” said Guujaaw.