Skidegate hall filled to bursting for Thursday’s historic celebration

  • Feb. 1, 2008 9:00 a.m.

By Jeff King–The small hall in Skidegate was filled to bursting last Thursday afternoon, as close to 400 people witnessed the historic celebration of the signing of the land use plan. The plan protects more than 25-percent of the islands from logging and was signed in Vancouver in December, after years of negotiations. Thursday was a time of smiles, dancing and celebration, with the guest of honour BC Premier Gordon Campbell. He attended with two key members of his cabinet, Lands Minister Pat Bell and Forests Minister Rich Coleman. It all happened from noon to 3:30 pm, with the Premier arriving shortly before 12:30. He visited every table in the hall before taking his place at the head table, shaking almost everyone’s hand. In fact, he may have shaken some twice.”This is about the future of the islands, the future of the people who live here. Certainly it’s for our people, we’ve fought all of them. NDP, it didn’t matter, they were all bad to us,” Council of the Haida Nation President Guujaaw told the Premier, before noting that he “really appreciated” the challenges faced by Mr. Campbell in delivering the agreement.”A big piece of it has been figured out. One that caused a lot of conflict,” Guujaaw said, “On this island, in the last 100 years, it was other people dividing up the spoils of colonialism, really.”It doesn’t matter if you are Premier, it is not a simple thing to put an end to it. Over the years, Premier Campbell has learned a lot about First Nations people. The whole islands community has convinced him this can be done. We have accomplished a lot to try to determine what it takes to keep a vibrant culture,” the CHN president said.The plan requires logging in permitted areas to be carried out under a new form of ecosystem-based management with shared decision-making between the Haida and the province. Guujaaw said he thinks it’s very good.”I don’t know of one that’s better”, he said, adding that(there’s) a long way to go on implementing this and making it work. The people here are up to the task.” There was a lot of hard work by a lot of people, and a logging blockade in the Spring of 2005, to reach the agreement, but there’s still more in the future.”The interesting story is yet to come. How do we make this work? How do we create the ‘ec-topian’ (society),” Guujaaw said, “I think we can do it. I think the world needs these little places to start turning the tide. I think we have a good chance to set an example for the rest of the world.He finished by saying “we have to figure out how to live and work together without spoiling the land.”Premier Gordon Campbell spoke next, praising Guujaaw.”There is no one who is a stronger advocate for Haida Gwaii and the future you can create. Thank you, Guujaaw,” he said.”I hope that ancestors are looking down and seeing we are taking first steps. We have just begun this journey” the Premier said, before talking about Haida culture. “As we begin, it is important to recognize the strength of the Haida culture, the tenacity of that culture. That strength and that culture make this day for me so important. (The young people) create great hope for me for the future,” Mr. Campbell said. He said the Haida have shown true leadership in the negotiations, and added that everyone, the Haida, islanders, British Columbians and Canadians have great potential here.”If we work with open hearts, we build on the strength of your tradition and work with BC’s tradition, we will do well, not just for our province, but for our country,” Mr. Campbell said.Lands Minister Pat Bell said”The Haida are true leaders across BC and across Canada. You are demonstrating the ability to find agreement to build an economy like no others”, while Forests Minister Gary Coleman said he was honoured and proud to be in Skidegate, and humbled as well. “This step takes you down the road to sustainability”, he said.Queen Charlotte Mayor Carol Kulesha who co-chaired the plan’s sessions before it went government to government, spoke on behalf of islands’ municipalities. She said the day is one of “tremendous congratulations” called the agreement a very important beginning, “a beginning that we all are going to be proud of.”Skidegate Band Chief Councillor Willard Wilson had a message of thanks to Guujaaw.”I want to say howa, howa, howa, Guujaaw, job well done, and all the people you have worked with. Howa again,” he said.Old Massett Chief Councillor Elizabeth Moore also spoke, giving a rare bentwood box drum to the Skidegate dance group. Mr. Campbell, worried about his timetable-he’s not on Haida time, someone said-got up to leave as she was speaking, prompting Ms Moore to say ‘he’s leaving in the middle of my speech, now he’ll have to potlatch me”. That received a roar from the crowd. It was then time for an exchange of gifts, and the Premier and his entourage helicoptered off to the airport, capping his second visit to the islands as Premier, the first being 18 months ago when he visited the Haida Heritage Centre at Second Beach. He said he’d be back for the grand opening of the centre in May.

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