There’ll be more local decision-making, and the federal and provincial governments’ roles on the islands will diminish after Haida title is proven, Guujaaw, president of the Haida Nation told members of the QCI Chamber of Commerce at its meeting in Port Clements Thursday (Sept 9).
“With us holding Haida title, and working with the people who live here, I think there will be little choice for the federal and provincial governments but to basically let us look after ourselves”, Guujaaw said.
Invited by the chamber, Guujaaw and Skidegate Council of the Haida Nation representative Irene Mills spoke and answered questions for more than an hour, sitting on a pew in the recently-renovated St. Mark’s building. They were the first Haida Nation representatives to attend a chamber meeting in likely more than twenty years, and the invitation to attend and the attention paid to them by chamber members was testimony to the increasing role of the Haida in island affairs.
Guujaaw said that when the Supreme Court of Canada recognizes Haida aboriginal title, it won’t be a ‘magic day’ but part of an ongoing process is underway right now, noting that the land use planning process now ongoing is an example and an important one. And he offered an idea as to what the future might hold.
“The concept of aboriginal title that we are pursuing in the courts is not decolonization,” Guujaaw said, “it is title in the context of Canada. And so even having won that, it sets up a situation, basically you need dialogue.”
Guujaaw said the Haida have moved closer in the past couple of years to working with the communities on the islands, citing the protocol agreement with Port Clements and Masset as an example, as well as the heritage tourism strategy forum which met over the last couple of years.
He said the protocol agreements mean a lot to the Haida people, as did the support the village of Port Clements showed as an intervener at the Supreme Court of Canada last spring. The issue, he said, is one of respect, and that the Haida want to ensure not only that they have the right to hunt and fish, but that there is something left to hunt and fish.
“We feel that there’s a lot of resources and economic (activity)Â…on the island and there should be a lot more left here for the people that live here,” he said.
Guujaaw also noted that a recent court case had limited the aboriginal right to the land, preventing the land itself from being spoiled. “Logging is fine if you don’t wreck the creeks, if you don’t wreck all the natural things we depend on,” he said, adding that his people accept that. “That’s all possible to do, it’s a limit that should apply to everybody, it is something that common sense should have applied from the beginning and the land would be as rich as it ever has been.”
Guujaaw pointed out that Haida title won’t necessarily mean turning back the clock. “Aboriginal title means the right to economic livelihoodÂ…in this modern time” he said.
He pointed out various ways the Haida are working together with other First Nations on the coast to block oil and gas exploration, saying it has a number of environmental problems and creates few jobs, and how the Haida have formed alliances with environmental groups. “The reason is they are quite effective in their lobbying and ability to affect things like timber marketplaces,” he said.
The Haida are not involved in the treaty process, he said citing as a major stumbling block the fact the province has limited the amount of land available for settlement at 5-percent of the land base. “Just using our example here, we have people from every part of this island living in our two little villages. There really is no part of the island that we could surrender,” he said.
Taking the title case to court is the right route, he said noting that proving title is easier for the Haida than for some other bands. “Â…not only can we prove title, but that Canada, the British and British Columbia had no legal authority to acquire these lands in the first place, and therefore every tenure that they have ever issued is unlawful,” Guujaaw told chamber members.
But he also said working together is important. “With the issues and concerns we all have, we pretty well have got to work together to make this work,” he said, “It is not easy and it is quite clear that everything could slip away from us.”
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